March 4, 2013: (The Wall Street Journal has posted helpful FAQs on this story.)
A two-year-old Mississippi girl, born infected with HIV has been "functionally cured." Reporting for the Los Angeles Times, Eryn Brown and Karen Kaplan posted last night that, according to Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center who discussed the case at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta yesterday, this is the first time a child born with HIV has been cured.
[The infant was] put on an unusually aggressive treatment regimen has been functionally cured of the infection. Now 2 years old, the Mississippi girl has only trace amounts of HIV in her bloodstream and has been able to keep the virus that causes AIDS in check without the help of medication...
Attempting to replicate the results in other HIV-positive infants is "our next step," said Persaud...
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, at left, the pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson who treated the baby.
Instead of giving the newborn just one antiretroviral drug, Gay opted for a three-drug regimen that is sometimes given as a long-term treatment for infected babies, she said. The first infusion was begun when the girl was only 30 hours old — several days before blood tests confirmed she was HIV-positive at birth, Gay said.
With continued treatment, it took less than a month for the girl's viral load to become undetectable with standard clinical tests, Gay said.
The treatments continued normally for about 15 months, then became sporadic. When the girl was 18 months old, her mother stopped bringing her to the doctor and she didn't receive her medications.
Five months later, the girl returned to the clinic and had her blood drawn. Gay said she expected to find that her viral load was high. Instead, her HIV levels were still undetectable. Additional tests a few days later confirmed the results, Gay said.
That's when Persaud and Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, began studying the girl's blood. Using the most sensitive tests available, they were able to find tiny amounts of HIV "particles" but no virus capable of replicating, the research team reported. The analysis was funded by the National Institutes of Health and amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research...
The case of the Mississippi patient is unusual because doctors would not stop a patient's treatment intentionally to see how he or she would fare without antiretroviral drugs. It is also unusual, Fauci said, because most pregnant women in the U.S. who are HIV-positive receive prenatal treatment to fight the virus, which dramatically decreases the risk of transferring the infection to the baby.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that fewer than 200 babies in the nation were infected with HIV at birth in 2010.
But in developing regions — including sub-Saharan Africa, the site of two-thirds of the world's HIV infections — it's a different story. Every year, 300,000 to 400,000 babies are born infected with HIV, Fauci said.
More than half of those children die within the first year...