AFRICANGLOBE – American doctors have broken new ground by curing a baby girl born with HIV – the first time a case like this has been recorded.
The child, from the state of Mississippi, is now two-and-a-half years old and has not needed any further treatment to combat the virus for a year, and she has shown no signs of infection.
Doctors say she will have a normal life expectancy and is unlikely to pass on the virus to others.
The result of the treatment was a surprise to medical experts – doctors are still unable to pinpoint the exact reason why the procedure was successful, yet it has raised hope that HIV can be eradicated from newborns with the condition.
The findings of the treatment were presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta by Dr Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” Persaud said.
The only other documented example of someone recovering from HIV was Timothy Ray Brown in 2007. However, his case was remarkably more complex than that of the baby girl – his infection was beaten through treatment administered for leukemia, whereby his immune system was destroyed and he was given a stem cell transplant from a donor who had an uncommon genetic mutation that is not susceptible to HIV infection.
In contrast, the Mississippi baby underwent a treatment of drugs that are available on the market; her antiretroviral therapy has already been used to treat infants with the virus.
What doctors believe was critical in this case was the timing, for the results indicate the immediate treatment after birth eradicated the HIV virus before it could take hold in other parts of the body.
Once the virus can form in certain areas, they act as hideouts for a reservoir of dormant cells to re-infect the body once medication is halted, according to Persaud.
The child was born in a rural hospital, her mother had only just tested positive for HIV, which meant doctors knew the baby was likely to be infected. The newborn was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, where paediatric HIV specialist Dr Hannah Gay administered a combination of drugs to the 30-hour-old girl, who has remained unnamed.
“I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk and deserved our best shot,” Gay said.
The treatment was continued for a further 18 months – five months after the treatment stopped the mother and child returned to the medical facility and doctors were amazed to discover there had been no re-infection.
Approximately 1,200 children in the UK and Ireland live with HIV transmitted from the womb, during birth or from being breastfed. However, the numbers are dramatically higher in Africa, where around 387,500 children aged below 15 received antiretroviral therapy in 2010.
Another 2 million children in the area require the drugs for treatment.
The team of medical staff involved in curing the baby girl remain convinced that it was a combination of the strength of the drugs and the rapid timeframe they were given which brought about the successful treatment.
“Prompt antiviral therapy in newborns that begins within days of exposure may help infants clear the virus and achieve long-term remission without lifelong treatment by preventing such viral hideouts from forming in the first place,” Persaud said.
“Our next step is to find out if this is a highly unusual response to very early antiretroviral therapy or something we can actually replicate in other high-risk newborns.”
HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “This is interesting, but the patient will need careful ongoing follow-up for us to understand the long-term implications for her and any potential for other babies born with HIV.”
By; Bart Chan