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Published On: Mon, Mar 4th, 2013

Johns Hopkins doctors report Mississippi child born with HIV is now ‘functionally cured’

Doctors say the girl, now 2, has only trace amounts of HIV in her bloodstream and has been able to keep the virus in check without medication. The next step is to try to replicate the results.

HIV Image/CDC

HIV Image/CDC

A baby born with the virus that causes AIDS appears to have been cured, scientists announced Sunday, describing the case of a child from Mississippi who’s now 2½ and has been off medication for about a year with no signs of infection.

There’s no guarantee the child will remain healthy, although sophisticated testing uncovered just traces of the virus’ genetic material still lingering. If so, it would mark only the world’s second reported cure.

Specialists say Sunday’s announcement, at a major AIDS meeting in Atlanta, offers promising clues for efforts to eliminate HIV infection in children, especially in AIDS-plagued African countries where too many babies are born with the virus.

“If there is a trial that shows this can happen again, then this will be very important,” said Dr. Karin Nielsen, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine who was not involved in the girl’s case. “You’ll be able to treat people very intensively and reverse the disease.”

Attempting to replicate the results in other HIV-positive infants is “our next step,” said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center who described the Mississippi patient at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. She and others are to make a formal presentation during the conference’s scientific program Monday.

Details of the unusual case have not yet been published in a medical journal so that other doctors and researchers can assess it. It’s possible that the girl — although at high risk for contracting the virus from her mother — was not actually infected herself, skeptics said.

Researchers who have examined her case extensively say they believe she did have the virus but was able to knock it back before it had time to establish itself in parts of the immune system where it can remain dormant and strike again after drug treatments are stopped. Such viral reservoirs are essentially impossible to treat once they have been established.

“Is it possible the child was not infected? Yes. Is it likely? No,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. The virus probably could not have remained in the baby’s body as long as it had if she had not been infected, he said.

In the United States and other developed countries, more than 98% of babies born to mothers with HIV do not get the virus thanks to preventive treatments that begin before birth and last up to six weeks afterward. In this case, the girl’s mother did not know she had HIV until she took a screening test after she was already in labor, said Dr. Hannah Gay, the pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson who treated the baby.

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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