A baby born with the HIV infection now has no signs of the virus. While doctors stopped short of calling it a true cure, AIDS researchers say this could be the beginning of one.
The infant was given anti-retroviral drugs. That’s not unusual, but this time they were given just hours after birth. Even more surprising is that the baby girl from Mississippi has been off medication for a year with no signs of the HIV infection.
At Batson Children's Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, Dr. Hannah Gay decided to treat a newborn baby immediately after birth with three HIV drugs before waiting two to three weeks for lab tests, which eventually confirmed the baby had been infected. Dr. Gay says she made the decision based on the baby’s high risk for infection. Her HIV-infected mother had not received any prenatal care.
When Dr. Gay followed up with the mother a year and a half later, she learned the baby had been taken off what should have been long-term treatment.
"At that point, the mom admitted she had not been giving the medicine for the past several months, and I fully expected the baby's viral load to have gone back up,” she said.
It had not. Thinking it was a lab mistake, Dr. Gay ordered more tests. There was no sign of the virus in the baby.
Experts are calling this a "functional cure" and suspect the early treatment left no time for the virus to hide out in the body.
The development is certainly encouraging, but at Silicon Valley Pediatricians in San Jose, Dr. Christine Halaburka says this is just a single case and this approach will likely not help most HIV patients. “I would say that it’s highly unlikely that a child who has HIV today will clear it. We’ve had many, many patients with HIV, and there have only been two cases reported where the patient had HIV and cleared the HIV virus from their system.”
But this single case is likely to inspire new resources for pediatric HIV research.
The reason this will not likely impact care of HIV-infected adults is that most don't know exactly when they became infected, and adult treatment typically doesn't begin until weeks or even years after infection.