A study co-authored by doctors in multiple states recently reported the first HIV cure seen in an infant. The baby girl, who is now two and a half years old, was treated with antiretroviral drugs 30 hours after she was born at a Mississippi hospital. The case has implications for healthcare worldwide, but doctors also caution reading too much into the results.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is known to cause AIDS, an infection that has puzzled and continually challenged scientists to this day. The virus attacks the human immune system, making the person even more vulnerable to other illnesses.
HIV works by integrating itself into a person’s own cells. It has a special enzyme known as reverse transcriptase that works to create its own DNA, that then incorporates itself into the body's DNA. This allows it to use the “host” cell resources to grow and divide, all the while killing the host cell. Roughly, this is how HIV grows and spreads throughout the body.
Study co-author Katherine Luzuriaga of the University of Massachusetts Medical School told USA Today that the baby’s mother had tested positive for HIV, and that doctors suspected the baby might contract it at birth. When tests confirmed this, they began treating the baby with antiretroviral drugs the day after she was born.
This not the usual course of treatment for a baby that has HIV, as Hannah Gay, the doctor who treated the girl, told USA Today. Most of the time, Gay said, a baby would be put on a course of drugs for his or her whole life to keep the virus at bay.
“It was a high-risk case,” Gay, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said in the article. “I suspected more strongly that this baby could be infected than I would if the mom had been treated during pregnancy.”
To add to the unusual case, both mother and child disappeared for five months when the child was 18 months old. After social services tracked them down, they learned the girl had not been on her anti-AIDS medication for the entire five months. When tested, though, doctors found “undetectable” levels of the virus, according to the report. Luzuriaga says the child remains HIV-free to this day, 10 months after stopping the anti-AIDs drugs.
Many doctors have been cautiously optimistic about the news, especially regarding infection in an adult. But in developing countries, where contraction of HIV in the womb is a big problem, these results could have important effects.
This study was presented Sunday, March 4 at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 872,990 persons in the United States were living with diagnosed HIV infection at the end of 2010.