Researchers say case of child infected at birth but no longer displaying symptoms may spare others long-term therapy
A child who was infected with HIV at birth and given a short course of treatment has remained healthy for the last nine years without further drugs, according to scientists at a conference in Paris, in a case that could give hope to children born with the virus.
Researchers say they hope to learn from the case of the child, born in South Africa, to save others from having to take powerful daily medication as they are growing up and for the rest of their lives.
The case resembles that of the “Mississippi baby”, a child in the US who was infected at birth in 2010 and treated until she was 18 months old. The mother disappeared with her child. When they returned and the baby was tested after a year without drugs, she had undetectable levels of HIV virus and doctors thought she may have been cured. However, in July 2014, they announced the virus had re-emerged.
Scientists’ hopes were dashed and they are not suggesting the South African baby is cured. There is no HIV infection, but advanced testing techniques have been able to detect a reservoir of virus integrated inside a tiny proportion of immune cells. The child’s immune system, however, is healthy and there is no sign of HIV infection and no symptoms.
“Further study is needed to learn how to induce long-term HIV remission in infected babies,” said Anthony S Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which funded the study of babies born with HIV of which the child was part nine years ago.
“However, this new case strengthens our hope that by treating HIV-infected children for a brief period beginning in infancy, we may be able to spare them the burden of lifelong therapy and the health consequences of long-term immune activation typically associated with HIV disease.”