Doctors in South Africa are reporting that a 9-year-old girl, who was infected with HIV at birth, has “seemingly been cured.”
Following her birth, she was given a round of treatment and has been off drugs for eight-and-a-half years without symptoms or signs of an active virus. Most people need a daily dose of treatment to manage the virus and prevent it from destroying their immune system and or developing into Aids.
Over time, levels of the virus became undetectable and her treatment was stopped after 40 weeks. But, unlike anybody else on the study – the virus has not returned.
Early therapy, which attacks the virus before it has a chance to fully establish itself, has been cited in child "cure" cases twice before.
One minor in Mississippi was put on the cocktail within 30 hours of birth and went 27 months without treatment before HIV re-emerged in her blood. And there was also a case in France involving a patient who has now gone more than 11 years without drugs.
Dr. Avy Violari, the head of pediatric research at the Perinatal 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."
While there is no active HIV in the child's body, the virus has been detected in the child's immune cells. HIV can hide inside cells for long periods of time, so there is still a chance that the child could require treatment in the future.
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," Fauci said.
There are approximately 36.7 million people living with HIV globally, but only 53 percent are receiving antiretroviral therapy.