US: Doctors find ‘functional cure’ for child born with HIV

Joseph McCormick March 4, 2013
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A baby born with HIV has effectively been cured of the virus through early drug treatment, American researchers have revealed, in the first documented case of its kind.

Doctors now believe that the child, now two and a half years old, does not need medication for HIV, has been given a normal life expectancy and is highly unlikely to be infectious to others.

Despite not knowing why the treatment was successful, doctors were hopeful that eventually the virus could be wiped out among newborn babies, reported the Guardian. 

The Mississippi child was cared for by Dr Hannah Gay, of the University of Mississippi medical centre, who said that the case represented the first “functional cure” of a newborn child infected with HIV.

A functional cure means that the blood appears to be free of the HIV virus when tested, but that it is likely that a very small number are still present.

“Now, after at least one year of taking no medicine, this child’s blood remains free of virus even on the most sensitive tests available,” Dr Gay said.

“We expect that this baby has great chances for a long, healthy life. We are certainly hoping that this approach could lead to the same outcome in many other high-risk babies,” she added.

The mother of the child had not realised she was HIV positive until too close to labour to administer the drugs. This prompted doctors to give the newborn child a higher dose than usual once the child was born.

The baby had tested positive for HIV, and began receiving treatment to combat the virus, but from the age of 18 months to two years, the child was given no drugs. When the mother and child did return to the hospital, tests for the virus all came back negative.

Dr Gay went on to warn that anybody taking drugs for the treatment of HIV must remain on them. “It is far too early for anyone to try stopping effective therapy just to see if the virus comes back,” she said.

She continued that until researchers could better understand how the child was functionally cured, that the best way to stop children being born with HIV was by treating the mothers.

She said: “Prevention really is the best cure, and we already have proven strategies that can prevent 98% of newborn infections by identifying and treating HIV-positive women.”

HIV prevention by antiretroviral drugs administered to the mother of an unborn child, as well as courses of drugs after the child is born, have stopped 98% of mother to child infection in the UK.

In developing countries, however, there is a much higher risk of mother to child infection.

Some have been skeptical of the discovery. A second article by the Guardian’s Health Editor, says “the implications for those already infected or even the still significant numbers of babies born with the virus in the developing world are sadly probably slight.”

Genevieve Edwards, a spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV/Aids charity, said: “This is an interesting case, but I don’t think it has implications for the antenatal screening programme in the UK, because it already takes steps to ensure that 98% to 99% of babies born to HIV-positive mothers are born without HIV.”

More: AIDS, Americas, antiretroviral drugs, child, dr hannah gay, HIV, hiv infection, Mississippi, US

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