The role bacteria play in human health—what’s termed our microbiome—has been much in the news lately. Each person is host to a unique assortment and concentration of over 100 trillion bacterial cells, most of which are beneficial. For example, the bacteria in our gut help us digest food and produce some of the vitamins we require. They also have a strong influence on everything from mental health to the immune system.
Dr. Kate Powis, a clinician and researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative (HAI), is studying the gut microbiome of HIV exposed but uninfected (HEU) infants. These HEU babies are born to HIV-positive mothers, and even though the babies don’t have the virus, they are two to three times more likely to die in the first two years of life than babies born to HIV-negative mothers. Over 1.5 million HEU children will be born this year.
Imagine that you’re a young woman in southern Africa, giving birth to the child you’ve carried for nine months. Between the pain and the pushing, you feel both excitement and dread. At the antenatal clinic several months ago, you learned that you were infected with HIV. The doctor gave you antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to prevent your child from being born with HIV. You pray that they worked.
As a young adult, Kate Powis loved to solve puzzles. Her father was a Secret Service agent and she planned to follow in his footsteps. She took college courses in criminal justice, financing her education by working as a “loss prevention” officer at a chain of department stores. She questioned shoplifters and employees caught stealing, but she didn’t enjoy the work. She often found herself in tears following an interrogation. “At the end of the day, I needed to be doing something more positive,” she said. Continue reading →