Baby girl thought to have been 'cured' of HIV has tested positive in relapse

News has dashed hopes over the effectiveness of fighting the disease through early treatment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 2:34pm


A baby girl in the United States who was thought to have been cleared of HIV, has seen her infection return – in a setback to hopes that very early treatment with powerful drugs might reverse the infection.

The four-year-old girl was born in Mississippi in 2010 to an HIV-infected mother who was untreated during pregnancy. The child was given a potent dose of anti-retroviral medication 30 hours after birth, and tested positive for HIV.

She was in remission for years despite stopping treatment. As recently as March, doctors had said that she seemed free of HIV despite not having been on AIDS drugs for about two years. That was a medical first.

However, on Thursday, doctors said tests last week showed that she was no longer in remission. She is now back on treatment and is responding well, doctors said.

The news is “obviously disappointing” and may have implications for a federal study that had been about to start testing early, aggressive treatment in such cases, said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We’re going to take a good hard look at the study and see if it needs any modifications,” either in terms of length and type of treatment or because of ethical concerns over raising false hopes about an approach that now has suffered a setback, Fauci said.

Most HIV-infected moms in the US get Aids medicines during pregnancy, which greatly cuts the chances they will pass the virus to their babies.

The Mississippi baby’s mom received no prenatal care and her HIV was discovered during labour. Because of the baby’s great risk of infection, doctors started her on unusually powerful treatment 30 hours after birth, even before tests could determine whether she was indeed infected.

The girl was treated until she was 18 months old, when doctors lost contact with her. Ten months later when she returned, they could find no sign of infection even though the mom had stopped giving her medicines.

Tests repeatedly showed no detectable HIV until last week, when copies of the virus were measured in her blood. She showed a decreased T-cell count and the presence of HIV antibodies.

Watch: What is HIV?

All those factors signaled that HIV was actively replicating again in her body.

Doctors say they don’t know why the virus rebounded when it did, and said it raises profound questions about what they know about HIV’s hideouts in the body.

Researchers must now turn their attention to understanding why and how the child went into remission, with the hope of extending that time period even further in future cases.

In March, doctors revealed that a second baby born with HIV may have had her infection put into remission by very early treatment – in this case, four hours after her birth in suburban Los Angeles in April last year.

Nearly a year later, very sophisticated tests at multiple times suggested she had completely cleared the virus, but she remains on treatment so there is no way to know for sure.

Only one other person is thought to have been cured of HIV infection – a San Francisco man who had a bone marrow transplant in 2007 from a donor with natural resistance to HIV. He showed no sign of infection more than five years later.