A toddler who was born HIV-positive is now believed to be free of the virus, and doctors say this important discovery was made by accident.
The little girl was born two years ago in Mississippi to a mother infected with HIV. Within a day, doctors started her on high doses of three common antiretroviral drugs and continued the treatments for 15 months, even though a diagnosis had not yet been made. Typically, doctors treat HIV-positive expectant mothers before delivery to avoid the virus being passed to the baby. However, in this case, the mother did not receive prenatal care and was only diagnosed shortly before having the baby. Because the mother did not receive treatments prior to her birth, doctors started her child on the drugs before getting the results of her HIV status, which can take up to six weeks.
"We started therapy as early as possible, which in this case was about 30 hours of age," Hannah Gay, M.D., a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told CNN. "And because it was a high-risk exposure, I decided to use three drugs rather than one."
Is she cured?
Doctors state that the now 2-year-old has no signs of the virus and is believed to be "functionally cured." This means the disease is unlikely to progress as she ages.
"This is the very first case in which we've conclusively been able to document that the baby was infected and then, after a period of treatment, has been able to go off treatment without viral rebound," Katherine Luzuriaga, M.D., a researcher who worked closely with the girl's doctors, told the news source.
News of this breakthrough in the fight against HIV was presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, which was recently held in Atlanta. Doctors state that the results of this case could have a significant impact on the way babies born to HIV-positive mothers are treated. According to Reuters, about 1,000 babies are born infected with HIV each day worldwide, mostly in developing countries.
While scientists admit this case is encouraging, a lot more needs to be done to lower infection rates, especially among infants. According to The Wall Street Journal, researchers involved in this analysis state that further studies are being planned to confirm the results of using this intense, early treatment regimen in infants. In addition, the girl will continue to be monitored for her HIV status.
"This news gives us great hope that a cure for HIV in children is possible and could bring us one step closer to an AIDS-free generation," said UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé in a statement.