A little girl has become the third child to “beat” the dreaded HIV virus into long-term remission. Doctors have revealed that the child from South Africa has been “virtually cured” of the Aids virus after receiving a cocktail of drugs as a baby.
The little girl was given a ten-month course of antiretroviral medication until she was one-year-old, and then later taken off the treatment as part of a medical trial.
A research team reported at the International Aids Society conference on HIV science in Paris that eight years and nine months later, the virus is still dormant but the girl is declared healthy without needing treatment.
Aids expert Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which funded the study, said: "This new case strengthens our hope that by treating HIV-infected children for a brief period beginning in infancy, we may be able to spare them the burden of life-long therapy.”
Some scientists refer to sustained, drug-free remission as a "functional cure".
It is different from a traditional cure, where the virus is eradicated, the patient still has HIV in their system but it is so weakened to a level that it can no longer replicate or spread to sexual partners.
Researchers hope that by treating people as soon as possible after infection, they can one day induce drug-free remission for sustained periods of time, perhaps permanently.
The unnamed girl was given a ten-month course of antiretroviral medication up until she was a year old. This has become a major focus of research in the midst of little hopes of finding a permanent cure. The virus has been more sneaky than imagined - it has the ability to hide out in human cells and play dead for years, only to re-emerge and attack as soon as treatment is stopped.
Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment inhibits the virus, but doesn't actually kill it. Infected people have to take pills daily for life which are costly and have side-effects.
This new case of the little girl strengthens the hope that by treating HIV-infected children for a brief period beginning in infancy, they may be spared the burden of life-long therapy.
A rare group of infected people known as “elite controllers” are naturally able to stop the virus from replicating. They comprise fewer than one percent. The little girl does not have the “elite controller” DNA.
Only a few people taking virus-suppressing antiretroviral drugs have attained drug-free remission including 14 adults in a French trial who were successful in quitting their medication after three years, and stayed healthy thereafter.
Researchers are at a loss as to how the girl achieved emission when 410 other children in the trial did not.
The girl was diagnosed to be HIV-positive on her 32nd day of life. After 10 months of treatment, HIV levels in her blood turned “undetectable” from “very high.”
Early treatment may have contributed to the girl’s case, although that remains to be fully conclusive.