HIV-infected baby still free of virus at age of three, say US researchers
Specialists say powerful doses of drugs appear to have created situation of 'sustained remission'
A girl who was treated for HIV shortly after birth still shows no sign of infection at the age of three, suggesting her apparent cure was not a fluke, US researchers say.
The story of the first child known to have been cured of HIV through early treatment with powerful doses of antiretroviral drugs, in what researchers call "sustained remission" rather than a cure, was initially announced in March when she was 2½.
A handful of HIV-infected adults around the world have been described in medical literature as newly free of the disease, most famously Timothy Brown, who was given a bone marrow transplant for leukaemia that wiped out his HIV as well.
But no easy method has emerged to eradicate the three-decade-old human immunodeficiency virus that infects 34 million people globally and is responsible for 1.8 million deaths each year.
The girl's updated case report, published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, also sought to answer questions raised by outside experts over whether she was ever really infected, by describing tests that were positive for HIV just over a day after birth.
The child was given antiretroviral drugs until the age of age 18 months and, after a year and half without treatment, no sign of the disease has returned, the article said.
"Our findings suggest that this child's remission is not a mere fluke but the likely result of aggressive and very early therapy that may have prevented the virus from taking a hold in the child's immune cells," said lead author Deborah Persaud, a virologist and paediatric HIV expert at the Johns Hopkins Children's Centre.
The child's mother gave birth to her prematurely, about a month early, and had not received any prenatal care. She was unaware that she was HIV positive until she was tested at the hospital in the US state of Mississippi where she delivered.
The baby also tested positive for HIV, and the high level found in her blood suggested that she had become infected with human immunodeficiency virus while in the womb, researchers said.
She also showed signs of HIV in tests at 19 days of age, data that "support the authors' perspective that the infant was truly infected", said an accompanying editorial by Scott Hammer, a leading HIV scientists at Columbia University Medical Centre.
"The big question is, 'Is the child cured of HIV infection?' The best answer at this moment is a definitive maybe'," he wrote.
A longer-term follow up of the child was needed, he said, cautioning that her case may be "unique", even as it showed a proof of principle that may lead to continued studies.