It may sound hard to believe, but doctors from Mississippi are saying that for the first time, an infant has been cured of an HIV infection. The New York Times relays reports from doctors who say the infant had tested positive for HIV on five separate occasions and now, at age two and a half and off drugs for an entire year, the child shows no signs of the virus in its body.
Shortly after its birth to an HIV-positive woman, the child had been treated with antiretroviral drugs just 30 hours after its birth, an uncommon practice. The thought is that this aggressive treatment contributed in large part to the apparent annihilation of the virus by crippling the virus before it could cripple the immune system.
From the New York Times:
If further study shows this works in other babies, it will almost certainly change the way newborns of infected mothers are treated all over the world. The United Nations estimates that 330,000 babies were newly infected in 2011, the most recent year for which there is data, and that more than 3 million children globally are living with HIV
If the report is confirmed, the child born in Mississippi would be only the second well-documented case of a cure in the world, giving a boost to research aimed at a cure, something that only a few years ago was thought to be virtually impossible.
There are, of course, caveats. Outside experts have not yet been able to completely verify the claims. And while it seems clear that the child no longer tests positive for HIV, there's yet to be rock-solid confirmation that it ever was HIV positive in the first place. But Dr. Deborah Persaud, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and lead author of the report on the baby and other outside scientists say they are certain the child was in fact infected. "It's proof of principle that we can cure H.I.V. infection if we can replicate this case," she said, announcing the discovery.
Studies are already being planned to see if similarly aggressive treatment can work in other HIV-positive infants, and if this cure can be widely verified, understood, and replicated, it stands as a huge step forward in the fight against HIV and AIDS in children, and eventually, the fight against HIV and AIDS on the whole. For the moment, it's an instance of an individual child being functionally cured, not "a cure" per se, but it's a step in the right direction. [The New York Times]