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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 8, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 10
Baby born with HIV is cured, researchers say
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Baby born with HIV is cured, researchers say

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A baby born with HIV appears to have been cured by prompt treatment with a strong infusion of antiretroviral drugs, doctors told the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) on March 3.

The child, born to an HIV-positive mother in Mississippi, is now two-and-a-half years old and shows no sign of HIV infection. Only traces of HIV genetic material remain in the child's body, doctors said.

'You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen,' Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, who is familiar with the findings, told the Associated Press.

GAME-CHANGING POTENTIAL
If the apparent cure can be replicated, it may indicate a path forward for efforts to eliminate HIV infection in children, especially in African countries where many babies are born with the virus.

In the case at hand, the mother came to a rural Mississippi emergency room in advanced labor. She had had no prenatal care and her HIV infection had not been diagnosed until she arrived at the ER seeking help.

In such cases, doctors typically give the newborn low-dose medication in hopes of preventing HIV from taking root. But the small hospital didn't have the proper kind, and sent the infant to the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The baby was then referred to pediatric HIV specialist Dr. Hannah Gay, who gave the baby higher treatment-level doses.

'I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot,' Gay said in an interview.

The child responded well through age 18 months, when the family failed to return for treatment, researchers said. When they returned several months later standard HIV tests detected no virus in the child's blood.

VIRUS COULDN'T HIDE
Gay's initial high-level dosage of antiretrovirals apparently eliminated HIV in the baby's blood before it could form hideouts in the body. Those so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly re-infect anyone who stops medication, said Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Persaud led the investigation that found the child 'func

tionally cured,' meaning in long-term remission even if all traces of the virus haven't been completely eradicated. Ten months after treatment stopped, a battery of super-sensitive tests at half a dozen laboratories found no sign of the virus's return. There were only some remnants of genetic material that don't appear able to replicate, Persaud said.

Next, Persaud's team is planning a study to try to prove that, with more aggressive treatment of other high-risk babies it may be possible 'to block this reservoir seeding.'

DON'T STOP MEDICATION
No one should stop taking anti-AIDS drugs as a result of this case, Fauci cautioned. But 'it opens up a lot of doors' to research if other children can be helped, he said.

About 300,000 children were born with HIV in 2011, mostly in poor countries where only about 60% of infected pregnant women get treatment that can keep them from passing the virus to their babies. In the U.S., such births are very rare because HIV testing and treatment long have been part of prenatal care.

'We can't promise to cure babies who are infected. We can promise to prevent the vast majority of transmissions if the moms are tested during every pregnancy,' Gay stressed.

The child in this case gets a checkup every few months, and her mother's HIV is being controlled with medication, Gay said.

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