March 4, 2013

Doctors report first cure of HIV in a child

Doctors report first cure of HIV in a child

Doctors report first cure of HIV in a childLivesey/Getty | Doctors in Germany say that they discovered a way to cure HIV, the deadly virus that leads to AIDS. For the first time, doctors are reporting that they have cured a child of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The landmark finding will help scientists better understand the nature of HIV, doctors say, and could potentially help countless HIV-positive babies in developing countries.

“I’m sort of holding my breath that this child’s virus doesn’t come back in the future,” says Hannah Gay, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, who treated the child, a 2½-year-old Mississippi girl. “I’m certainly very hopeful that it will produce studies that will show us a way to cure other babies in the future.”Experts note that the girl’s story is also unique — involving a string of unusual events — and won’t immediately lead to a cure for the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide.

The baby contracted HIV at birth, says study co-author Katherine Luzuriaga of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.The girl’s mother tested positive for HIV when she arrived at the hospital to give birth, Gay says. But the mother hadn’t had any prenatal care, including anti-HIV therapy.

The baby was born too quickly for doctors to begin any therapy before delivery, as well. Because doctors suspected the baby would be infected, they began administering anti-AIDS therapy the day after birth, Luzuriaga says. The baby’s case was exceptional from the beginning.It’s rare today for babies to be born with HIV, says Anthony Fauci, a director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, which partly funded the study. Doctors now routinely treat HIV-positive pregnant women with anti-retroviral medications and give preventive treatment to babies for the first six weeks of life, Luzuriaga says.

This regimen has reduced mother-to-child transmission from 25% to 30% — in the days before anti-retroviral therapy — to less than 2% today, Gay says.Normally, doctors would keep an HIV-positive baby like this on medications for the rest of her life, for fear that the virus would come raging back, Gay says.

In another unusual twist, however, the girl and mother disappeared when she was about 18 months old, Gay says. They missed several appointments, leading doctors to seek help from social services to track them down. The mother and toddler finally returned to the hospital five months later, having taken no anti-AIDS medication during that time, says Gay, whose study was presented Sunday at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.While most HIV-positive mothers do their best to give children recommended medications, a small number drop out of care, Gay says. “It’s more common than we would like,” she says, noting that many of those infected with HIV suffer from poverty, homelessness and other problems that can interfere with care.

Doctors fully expected to find high levels of HIV, Gay says. They were surprised to learn that the child appeared HIV-free, with virus

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