A thorough medical procedure has resulted in a now two-year-old girl being cured of her HIV diagnosis. Here’s the top ten facts you need to know about how the little girl was cured and what this could mean for the future of a worldwide cure for HIV.
1. The Baby Girl Was Born With HIV
About two years ago, the baby girl was born to her mother, who recently tested positive for HIV. The mother didn’t receive any prior HIV treatment, which worried doctors who presumed her baby would contract the disease. After the baby was born, she was soon transferred to The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi for further medical treatment.
2. Doctors Treated Her With A Drug Cocktail
Doctors at the facility proceeded to aid the baby by treating her with a cocktail of three standard HIV-treatment drugs. At the time, the baby girl had only been alive for close to 30 hours. The medical procedure began even before the baby was positively diagnosed with HIV. Pediatric HIV specialist Dr. Hannah Gay spoke to CNN about the baby and her fight to cure her:
We didn’t have the opportunity to treat the mom during the pregnancy as we would like to be able do to prevent transmission to the baby.
The treatment continued for 15 months until both her and her mother took a hiatus from the medical system.
3. The Baby Girl Was “Functionally Cured” of HIV
Five months after the baby girl and her mother no longer appeared on the medical system’s radar, they resurfaced. The HIV treatment the baby girl was given previously had come to an end. When they ran tests on her to see if the HIV virus had returned, they discovered that it hadn’t. Two years later, it’s been confirmed that the girl has been “functionally cured” of HIV. This remarkable finding was recently announced at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta. Dr. Gay spoke to CNN about the future studies that will result from this find:
We are hoping that future studies will show that very early institution of effective therapy will result in this same outcome consistently.
4. This Is The First Time A Baby Has Been Cured of The Virus
This case seems fascinating to Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, an immunologist at The University of Massachusetts who worked closely with Dr. Gay, spoke to CNN about the fascinating results and the early treatment administered to the baby:
This is the very first case in which we’ve conclusively been able to document that the baby was infected and then after a period of treatment has been able to go off treatment without viral rebound. We started therapy as early as possible, which in this case was about 30 hours of age. And because it was a high-risk exposure, I decided to use three drugs rather than one.
5. The Cured Baby Will Have To Be Studied From This Point Forward
A spokeswoman for the HIV/AIDS charity the Terrence Higgins Trust spoke to BBC about the need to follow-up on the baby’s long-term health now that she’s been cured:
This is interesting, but the patient will need careful ongoing follow-up for us to understand the long-term implications for her and any potential for other babies born with HIV.
The now two-year-old girl could help make waves in finding a proper cure for HIV-born babies.
6. Doctors Say Treating HIV-Diagnosed Mothers Early May Help
Researchers contend that treating HIV-positive mothers early on may help prevent their antibodies from passing on to their child. Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga spoke to CNN about the importance of treating this virus at the earliest moment:
One hundred percent of (HIV-positive) moms will pass those antibodies, but in the absence of treatment, only 30% of moms will transmit the actual virus. So all babies are born antibody positive, but only a fraction of babies born to HIV-positive women will actually get the virus, and that fraction depends on whether the mom and baby are getting antiviral prophylaxis (preventative treatment) or not.
7. This Case Might Change The Way Newborn Babies With HIV Are Treated
Due to the way thE baby girl was treated immediately after being born, the way that HIV-positive newborns are treated may change. Currently, HIV-born babies are usually given antiviral drugs at preventative doses for six weeks in order to fight off the infection. If the HIV virus still manages to be found inside the child’d bloodstream, therapy is administered thereafter.
8. Doctors Say The HIV Virus Must Be Treated In A Person’s Early Years
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, made sure to state to CNN that a person with HIV must be treated from as early as their birth:
The best way to either eliminate the virus or allow the immune system to suppress residual virus is to treat someone as early as possible after infection so as not to allow a substantial reservoir of the virus to take hold. At the same time, you prevent the immune system from being severely damaged by the continual replication of (the) virus for an extended period of time,” he said. “The situation with a child born of an infected mother where most of the infections are transmitted to the newborn at or around the time of delivery provides an excellent opportunity to cure an infected baby, and this approach deserves further study.
9. A Man Was Cured of HIV in 2007
In 2007, a German man by the name of Timothy Ray Brown became the first case of someone being cured from HIV. His virus infection was eradicated from his body after he was given medical treatment for his leukemia. This treatment consisted of a leukemia operation and a bone marrow transplant. The donor who provided the stem cell had a rare genetic mutation that was capable of resisting the HIV virus. Brown spoke to CNN about his current health:
I’ve been tested everywhere possible. My blood’s been tested by many, many agencies. I’ve had two colonoscopies to test to see if they could find HIV in my colon, and they haven’t been able to find any.
It should be noted that doctors located traces of the HIV virus in Brown’s blood five years after he was cured. Doctors still believe that he has been fully cured of the virus, though.
10. There’s Still No Solid Cure For HIV
Michelle Roberts, health writer/editor for BBC News Online made sure to make people aware this this case doesn’t mean that a HIV cure has been found:
There is currently no cure for HIV. This latest case of a baby girl in the US who was treated within hours of birth and has since been disease-free off HIV medication does not mean we have found this Holy Grail. While the findings are encouraging, it remains to be seen if the treatment will provide permanent remission. Experts also say the same treatment would not work in older children and adults with HIV as the virus will have already become too established. Public health doctors say prevention is still the best way to beat HIV. If expectant mothers with HIV are given anti-HIV treatment during pregnancy and then have a low-risk Caesarean delivery and do not breastfeed, their babies have a 98% chance of being HIV negative.