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.