HIV May Slow Puberty, Research Shows

Two boys play basketball at an Ariel Camp in Rwanda. New research is showing that HIV can affect puberty in young people.

James Pursey/EGPAF

For young people living with HIV, diagnosis and treatment alone can be challenging. Add to that new research that shows that children infected with HIV at birth experience delays in the onset of puberty.

According to research first published in the July 31 issue of the journal AIDS, children living with HIV experience a significant delay in the onset of puberty – with longer lags for those living with more severe HIV infections. These stalls can push back the development of secondary sexual characteristics, like breasts or public hair.

Lynne M. Mofenson MD, chief of the Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch at the National Institutes of Health, said that these delays could be caused by HIV-induced inflammation disrupting the normal hormonal regulation of teenage development. In addition, she added that some researchers have suggested that HIV may directly or indirectly affect the release of hormones critical to development. “Puberty interacts with other critical metabolic processes, such as bone development, etc. – so delays in puberty could have long-term effects on adult height and bone mass,” she said.

But there’s good news – the research also indicates that antiretroviral treatment can shorten these lags and result in a timelier onset of puberty. “This provides another important reason for early diagnosis of HIV in children and initiation of fully suppressive therapy,” Dr. Mofenson said.

More research is needed to learn more about how HIV affects children and young people and how the virus could impact fertility and reproductive health.

To learn more about pediatric HIV, click here.

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.