A baby girl who was born with the virus has been successfully cured after very early treatment with standard drug therapy US researchers have said.
There’s no guarantee the virus won’t be caught up by the infant again, although sophisticated testing uncovered just traces of the virus’ genetic material still lingering.
According to scientists, it’s a potentially outstanding case that could help get rid of HIV infection in its youngest victims, especially in AIDS-plagued African countries where too many babies are born with the virus.
The announcement came on Sunday at a major AIDS meeting in the US city of Atlanta.
“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who presented the findings.
“You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we’ve seen,” Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, familiar with the findings, told reporters.
The baby was cured after her doctor prescribed her faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth.
That was before tests confirmed the infant had the virus and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn’t diagnosed until she was in labor.
“I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot,” Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, said in an interview.
“Now, after at least one year of taking no medicine, this child’s blood remains free of virus even on the most sensitive tests available,” Gay said.
As ABC News writes, that fast move apparently knocked out HIV in the baby’s blood before spreading in the body.
“Those so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly reinfect anyone who stops medication”, said Dr. Deborah of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
Dr. Persaud headed the investigation that deemed the child “functionally cured,” meaning in long-term remission even if all traces of the virus haven’t been completely eradicated.
Persaud’s team now is planning to conduct a study in order to prove that, with more aggressive treatment of other high-risk infants. “Maybe we’ll be able to block this reservoir seeding,” Persaud said.
“We expect that this baby has great chances for a long, healthy life. We are certainly hoping that this approach could lead to the same outcome in many other high-risk babies,” Dr. Gay added.
No one should stop anti-AIDS drugs as a result of this case, Fauci cautioned. But “it opens up a lot of doors” to research whether the rest of infected babies can be trated, he said. “It makes perfect sense what happened.”
Statistics shows that about 300,000 children were born with the HIV virus in 2011, mostly in poor countries where only about 60 percent of infected pregnant women can get special treatment aimed to keep them from passing the virus to their infants.
In the U.S., such births are quite rare as HIV testing and treatment long have been part of prenatal care.
“We can’t promise to cure babies who are infected. We can promise to prevent the vast majority of transmissions if the moms are tested during every pregnancy,” Gay stressed.