Doctors have now proclaimed a 2-year old Mississippi toddler cured of AIDS after being off meds for about a year with no signs of the disease, although sophisticated testing has uncovered small traces of the virus’s genetic material still lingering in her body.
The little girl was deemed at high risk after it was discovered that her mother’s own infection was not diagnosed until she was in labor, and therefore not received any prenatal HIV treatment. As a result, doctors transferred the baby to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, where Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist began giving her a stronger treatment than usual, an infusion of cocktail of three widely available drugs already used to treat HIV infection in infants within 30 hours after delivery. The fast action apparentky knocked out the virus in the baby’s blood before it could find hiding places in the body, those so-called reservoirs of dormant cells that can rapidly reinfext anyone who goes off their medications,” reported Gay. “I just felt like this baby was at higher than normal risk because of her mother, and deserved a shot,” she said
After starting on treatment, the baby's immune system responded and tests showed levels of the virus were diminishing until it was undetectable 29 days after birth. The infant continued to receive regular treatment for 18 months, but then stopped going to appointments for a period of about 10 months, when her mother said she was not given any treatment. The doctors did not say why the mother stopped going. However, when the little girl did come back, Dr. Gay ordered standard blood tests to see how the child was getting along before resuming anti-viral therapy.
What she found was surprising. The first blood test did not turn up any detectible levels of HIV. Neither did the second. And tests for HIV-specific antibodies (the standard clinical indicator of HIV infection) also remained negative.
The Mississippi toddler’s story is the first account of an infant achieving a so-called functional cure, a rare event in which a person achieves remission without the need for drugs and standard blood tests show no signs that the virus is making copies of itself.
"This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants," said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who presented the findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.