The recent story of an American baby who was "functionally cured" of HIV after receiving high doses of antiretroviral drugs immediately after her birth may not be an isolated case. According to a new study published in PLOS Pathogens, early therapy has helped as many as 14 additional patients go into remission.
Researchers from the Pasteur Institute in Paris state that the study's patients started antiretroviral therapy within 10 weeks of becoming infected with HIV. On average, the infected individuals continued taking the drugs for three years before electing to stop for a period of more than seven years. All have been able to keep the virus in check without continued drug therapies since. This is a phenomenon experts call a "functional cure." While HIV still exists within their bodies, it is only detectable with highly sensitive laboratory tests.
"Our results show that early and prolonged [drug therapy] may allow some individuals with a rather unfavorable background to achieve long-term infection control and may have important implications in the search for a functional HIV cure," the study's authors wrote.
Additionally, the study's investigators estimated that as many as 15 percent of HIV-infected individuals, who start treatment early and continue for at least a year, might then be able to control the virus without ongoing daily treatment.
According to The Los Angeles Times, critics argue that early antiretroviral therapy is expensive and poses a risk of long-term toxicity and viral resistance. However, some HIV experts hope these findings could alter the future of HIV worldwide.
"I think there's a good rational for saying if you can identify these people and do treatment earlier, you can decrease the viral burden and probably alter the long-term course," Mark Kline, M.D., HIV and AIDS specialist, told ABC News.