Doctors have reported the first documented case of a child being cured of HIV.
The baby from Mississippi in the US was diagnosed with HIV at birth and started to be treated with standard antiretroviral medicines 30 hours after birth. At just over two, the child has stopped taking HIV drugs for eight months and has ‘an undetectable viral load’, meaning no sign of HIV infection.
Researchers say the case shows that HIV can potentially be cured in infants.
The Terrence Higgins Trust is calling the case “interesting”, but says more research is needed to understand the long-term implications.
The Berlin patient
The only other documented case of a person being cured of HIV is Timothy Brown, known as the ‘Berlin patient’.
He was diagnosed with leukaemia while being treated for HIV. He received a stem cell transplant for the leukaemia from someone with a genetic immunity to HIV.
Last year when launching a new AIDS campaign, 45-year old Mr Brown said: “I am cured of the AIDS virus. I am cured and will remain cured.”
Babies’ immune systems
Researchers say there’s a possibility of different groups of HIV-positive people being cured in different ways in future.
The baby’s case was studied with funding from the American Foundation for AIDS Research. In a news release, the group’s vice president and director of research, Dr Rowena Johnston says: “Given that this cure appears to have been achieved by antiretroviral therapy alone, it is also imperative that we learn more about a newborn’s immune system, how it differs from an adult’s, and what factors made it possible for the child to be cured.”
Reacting to the child’s cure in a statement, Genevieve Edwards, director of health improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, says: “This is interesting, but the child will need careful ongoing follow-up for us to understand the long-term implications and any potential for other babies born with HIV.”
She says HIV screening during pregnancy means treatment can usually start before a baby is born, but for babies born with the virus, this case may be significant: “In the UK we already have a programme of ante-natal screening for HIV, which means that there are very few babies born with the virus. Expectant mothers with HIV are given anti-HIV treatment during pregnancy which together with a low-risk caesarean and no breastfeeding means their babies have a 98% chance of being HIV negative. But this could be of interest where mothers to be are diagnosed with HIV during labour rather than pregnancy.”
The case was highlighted at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta in the US. As the findings were presented at a medical conference, they should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the peer review process, in which outside experts scrutinise the data prior to publication in a medical journal.