A nine-year-old child living in South Africa has been “virtually cured” of HIV, becoming the third child in the world to officially be in remission.
The child, who has not been identified, was given treatment as soon as they were born as they were infected with the virus at birth.
Doctors in the country have said that since that burst of treatment the child has not required any other medical attention for the virus for the past eight and a half years.
Although HIV cannot be detected in the child’s body, it has been detected in their immune cells.
This means that HIV is lying dormant and while they do not need treatment now it may be required in the future.
The child may provide vital information for a break through on learning how HIV can be cured.
They were given antiretroviral treatment for 40 weeks after being found to have high detectable levels of HIB in their blood shortly after being born in 2007.
It is the third known time that a child has been “cured” of HIV by using the therapy.
Dr Avy Violari, the head of paediatric research at the Perinal HIV Research Unit in Johannesburg, said: “We don’t believe that antiretroviral therapy alone can lead to remission.
“We don’t really know what’s the reason why this child has achieved remission – we believe it’s either genetic or immune system-related.”
The family of the child are “really delighted” at the outcome.
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The other two children who have had similar successful outcomes were in France and Mississippi.
The child from Mississippi was given treatment just a day after they were born and HIV remained undetectable until 27 months afterwards.
A second child living in France has lived 11 years without needing further treatment.
Doctors working with the child in South Africa believe that it is not the drug therapy alone that “cured” the child, but rather something in their genetics that helped.
Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “This case report is really interesting in the sense that it adds to our knowledge of what might be achievable with very early treatment in infants.
“Early HIV therapy, in both children and adults, has been shown to reduce some of the damage to the immune system that HIV causes in the first few weeks and months of infection. If we can understand this mechanism better it will hopefully lead to novel treatment strategies and, maybe one day, a cure.
“Further research is needed, but this case adds to the hope that, one day, we may be able to prevent the need for life-long therapy with a short course of early HIV treatment in infancy. For now, however, early diagnosis and life-long treatment for HIV remain our best options for fighting the epidemic.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “Further study is needed to learn how to induce long-term HIV remission in infected babies.
“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.”