In a small town in Mississippi, a mother reports to the hospital in labor. She has received no prenatal care and has no idea she is HIV-positive. When her infant is born, HIV tests are positive and suggest the infant contracted the virus in utero rather than during vaginal delivery. Dr. Hannah Gay, the attending physician, starts the infant on a three-drug HIV treatment just 30 hours after birth. That three-drug treatment could be the cure for infant HIV.
After 18 months of treatment, the mother removed the child from medical care and stopped administering HIV medications. When the mother and child returned to the office five months later, doctors suspected the HIV test would be positive with an increased viral load. What Dr. Gay found was a negative HIV test – the infant had been cured of HIV with just 18 months of treatment.
Skeptics are not sold on the story with many requesting proof the infant was indeed infected with HIV at birth. According to RNA and DNA tests ordered by Dr. Gay, the infant did test positive for HIV. Further testing after the HIV cure proved genetic evidence of the virus existed, but the HIV was not allowed to take hold in the body or overcome the immune system, which could be the reason the cure worked.
This would not be the first case of an infant beating HIV, though most infants overcome the infection without medication. The infant immune system cleared the virus naturally, according to reports published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1995, but advanced medical testing and lax data collection left most experts wondering how many of these infants were truly infected.
A more invasive cure, bone marrow transplant via HIV-resistant donor, was proven to work on one adult – Timothy Brown, but bone marrow transplant is not safe for all patients, especially infants. If the three-drug HIV protocol typically reserved for treatment of active HIV infections works to cure infants with the virus, fewer childhood cases would develop. This HIV cure could change the face of medicine and prevent HIV infection in infants across the world.
Researchers need to test the medical protocol in a large-scale study to replicate the results. If replicated – the three-drug treatment could be suggested as the first-line treatment against the HIV infection in newborns.
Source: Andrew Pollack and Donald G. McNeil Jr. In Medical First, a Baby with H.I.V. is Deemed Cured. The New York Times – Health. 3 March, 2013.