South African Baby Born With HIV Remains Symptom-Free Years After Treatment

The exciting results were presented Monday at an HIV/AIDS conference in Paris, known as the International AIDS Society conference.

The case is that of a nine-year-old South African child who was infected with HIV at birth.

They have since been off treatment for eight and a half years without showing any symptoms or signs of the active virus.

More than half of people infected with HIV worldwide are now getting drugs, and AIDS-related deaths have nearly halved since 2005, putting the world on track to hit the target of 30 million people on treatment by 2020, the United Nations said last week.

In a separate comment piece discussing the research, Mark Boyd and David Cooper from the University of New South Wales say that the results "merit close attention", although there is still work to be done.

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.

The youngster was first enrolled in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)-funded Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy (CHER) clinical trial in 2007.

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Researchers hope by putting HIV-positive babies on treatment as soon as possible‚ some may be able to stop treatment for a period of time.

Speaking to The Guardian, Caroline Tiemessen from Johannesburg's National Institute of Communicable Diseases said, "By further studying the child, we may expand our understanding of how the immune system controls HIV replication".

"The future outlook of donor funding for HIV remains uncertain, given recently proposed cuts to HIV funding by the USA, amid other competing demands on donor budgets more generally", said the KFF report.

The baby contracted HIV from its mother. It was found that an injection every month or two months was just as effective at preventing the virus from returning as daily pills.

Ten months later, the treatment was deliberately stopped as part of the study, because the presence of the virus was reduced to an undetectable level. The tests showed a trace immune system response to the virus but no HIV capable of replicating. Two previous cases involved the so-called "Mississippi Baby", who was in remission for over 2 years after receiving early treatment before the virus rebounded, and a French child who controlled the virus more than 11 years after stopping treatment.

While other children saw their viral loads rebound, the girl still has no detectable HIV in her blood, researchers said.

Eighty-seven percent of those who received injections every four weeks showed the virus to still be subdued, compared to just 84 percent of patients who took daily oral pills. When researchers conducted a thorough analysis of the child's blood at nine-and-a-half years of age, they detected a reservoir of virus integrated into a tiny proportion of immune cells - called latent HIV - the sole remaining evidence of any HIV infection.

  • Ismael Montgomery