US doctors 'cure' baby born with HIV

Mar 05, 2013, 00:27 IST | Agencies

A toddler, who was given the HIV-fighting drugs 30 hours after birth, no longer shows any signs of infection 10 months since treatment ceased

Doctors have made a landmark breakthrough in the treatment of HIV after they ‘cured’ a baby with the virus. The baby girl had been infected by her mother who was diagnosed as HIV positive during labour.

Because of the high infection risk, the baby was given an accelerated programme of medication. She received three standard HIV drugs instead of the usual one when she was just 30 hours old.

In 2011, 3.3 million children across the world were diagnosed as living with HIV in 2011. File Pic/AFP

This appears to have blasted the virus into remission and prevented it from taking root in the baby’s cells. Now two-years-old, the girl from Mississippi is in remission with blood tests showing no signs that the virus is present. This is known as a ‘functional cure.’

Experts say the groundbreaking development paves the way for other children to be treated before the virus takes hold. At a major AIDS meeting in Atlanta, the case was declared a major landmark in the battle to find a cure for the disease.

Study leader Dr Deborah Persaud, of Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre in Baltimore, said the toddler is now free from the potentially fatal disease.

Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said: “You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we’ve seen.”

He added that the child, who is only the second patient ever recorded to have been ‘cured’ of AIDS, ‘opens up a lot of doors’ for the treatment of other children born with HIV.

 When the baby girl was born in a rural hospital, her mother had just tested positive for HIV infection. Because her mother had not received any prenatal HIV treatment, doctors knew the child was born at high risk of being infected.

So, they transferred the baby to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, where she came under the care of Dr Hannah Gay, a paediatric HIV specialist.

Because of her high infection risk, Dr Gay put the infant on a cocktail of three standard HIV-fighting drugs when she was just 30-hours-old, even before lab tests came back confirming her infection. 

She said: “I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot.” The child responded well up to the age of 18 months, when the family temporarily stopped attending the hospital and stopped treatment, researchers said.

When they returned several months later, remarkably, Dr Gay’s tests detected no virus in the child’s blood.

Only man to be cured of AIDS
In 2007, Timothy Ray Brown known as the Berlin patient became the first person believed to have recovered from HIV. His infection was eradicated through an elaborate treatment for leukaemia that involved the destruction of his immune system and a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection. 

34 mn Number of people living with HIV in 2011
230,000 Number of children who died of AIDS in 2011

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