Each year, over 400,000 new HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) infections are seen in new born babies. HIV is transmitted from an HIV-positive mother to her baby during pregnancy, delivery (the most common way) or through breastfeeding. HIV infection in babies is considered to be unpreventable. But, doctors in the United States cured two and a half year old child born with HIV infection and made a medical breakthrough history. The 2 1/2 years old, girl child lives in Mississippi. It is the 1st case of a “functional cure” in child born with HIV. She becomes the first child and second person in the world being cured of HIV.
Doctors disclosed details of the case at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Atlanta. A mother of the girl did not know that she is HIV positive so she failed to get any prenatal HIV treatment during pregnancy. Due to the high infection risk to the baby, doctors transferred the baby to the University of Mississippi Medical School (UMMS) immediately. At UMMS, Dr. Hannah Gay took care of the baby. Doctors carried out different tests and found that she was infected with HIV RNA and DNA.
Dr. Gay gave extra-high doses of three antiretroviral drugs to 30 hours old baby. Generally, only one dose is given to the babies born with HIV. The Laboratory tests performed at 6, 12 and 20 days were confirmed HIV in the plasma. But after one month, there was no HIV virus detectable in the baby on standard tests. The mother of the baby stopped the treatment at 18 months. When the mother returned with her 21 months old baby to UMMS for checkup, the doctors tested the baby for the virus and the test is negative.
Doctors tested the baby repeatedly but all the tests are negative. Dr. Gay then contacted a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for conducting tests and confirm the cure. They found only a few traces of the virus that cannot replicate or attack other cells. Doctors confirmed that the baby is “functionally cured”.
The girl is now two and a half year old and required no treatment for HIV. The girl is living a healthy and normal life. Also, she is not likely to transmit the disease to others. This is a vital, but small step towards understanding how HIV-infected infants can be treated in a better way. The doctors still have doubts why the treatment was effective. However, they believe that early and aggressive treatment cured HIV infection in baby.
If this aggressive treatment is proven effective, the way to treat children born with HIV will be changed dramatically. As per Dr Persaud (who presented the case at CROI), the case is a Game-Changer and offers the underlying principle to move forward. Her team is planning a study to prove that, whether a functional cure could be possible to other high-risk babies or not.