A baby born with HIV that she contracted from her mother while in the womb still shows no sign of the virus, despite the fact that she stopped taking medication to fight it 18 months ago, doctors announced in a new report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. While doctors are still hesitant to say the child has been “cured,” they now have good evidence suggesting that the unusually aggressive course of treatment provided to her almost immediately after birth may have led to the virus’ apparent disappearance from her system.
“We want to be very cautious here,” said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, an HIV/AIDS expert with the University of Massachusetts who helped treat the baby, in an interview with NBC News. “We’re calling it remission because we’d like to observe the child for a longer time and be absolutely sure there’s no rebound.”
Doctors announced that the child seemed to have been functionally “cured” back in March. The baby was born to a mother in rural Mississippi who was unaware that she was HIV positive; doctors were so concerned that her baby had contracted the virus that they started administering anti-HIV drugs to the child within 30 hours of birth, without even waiting to do a lab test to confirm the virus’ presence.
Although early signs suggested the treatment was effective, the baby’s caretakers wanted to wait longer to see if the virus would return. To date, it hasn’t, despite the discontinued use of medication.
The development is certain to spur further research into early and aggressive targeting of HIV as a way to possibly cure people who have been infected. In fact, there have been several other promising examples of this method’s potential. In July, researchers announced that two HIV-positive cancer patients who were taking antiretroviral drugs at the same time as they were undergoing bone marrow stem cell treatments appeared to be free of the virus for over three years, despite discontinuing treatment earlier in the summer.
There are 34 million people living with HIV worldwide, and the UN estimates that about 330,000 babies were newly infected with the virus in 2011.