Scientists in the US have reported a glimmer of hope in battling the Aids virus after doctors claimed thay had "cured" a baby girl of the illness. The treatment - standard drug therapy - was supplied early in the diagnosis. The child has been without treatment for a year now and there appears to be no sign of regression.
Doctors say they expect the two-and-a-half year old child to have a normal life expectancy despite the HIV virus remaining in her system. However, they also caution that they are unsure whether the procedure used in this instance can be transferred to other children battling the virus. What the case does is give scientists hope to fight what was earlier thought of as a lost battle.
Dr Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said: "This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants."
The unnamed child becomes the second person in the world to be cured of the deadly virus. Timothy Ray Brown was the first to be cured, in 2007, through extensive treatment for leukaemia and stem cell transplants.
In the case of the baby girl, the mother was unaware of her HIV status. Dr Hannah Gray, the head doctor supervising this case at the University of Mississippi Medical Centre, said the baby's risk of infection was significantly higher... a situation that led to the girl being placed on a mixture of three high-end HIV-fighting drugs when she was just 30 hours old; the standard dose is just the one drug.
The mother and daughter were asked to check in with the hospital regularly but missed five months of appointments. When they were eventually examined, the child was HIV-free.
Gay, stunned by the test results, said: "When they (child and mother) did return to care after 23 months, I fully expected that the baby would have a high viral load. But, to my surprise, all of the tests came back negative."
To verify, doctors took the child for more blood tests, which indicated the child had the HIV virus present but not toxic enough to create problems in the future.
Hope for Adults with HIV?
However, doctors and scientists alike think there is still some way to go before curing HIV in adults because the virus would have already infected their CD4 cells. The perceived reason for this case to have been a success is because the new born child was given an aggressive dosage of medication merely 30 hours after birth. The drugs stopped the virus from entering the CD4 cells, which usually helps the HIV virus as bunkers. It becomes very difficult for modern medicine to remove every vestige of the deadly virus hiding in the CD4 cells.
"Prompt antiviral therapy in newborns that begins within days of exposure may help infants clear the virus and achieve long-term remission without lifelong treatment by preventing such viral hideouts from forming in the first place," said Dr Persaud.
"Our next step is to find out if this is a highly unusual response to very early antiretroviral therapy or something we can actually replicate in other high-risk newborns," the doctor added.
HIV/AIDS in the UK
According to Avert UK, there are around 96,000 people living with HIV in the UK at the moment. Of these, around a quarter are unaware of the virus present in their system. As of mid-2012, there have been 27,814 diagnoses of AIDS in the UK, and 20,674 people have died of AIDS. The number of people diagnosed with AIDS peaked in 2005. But there has been a steady decline in numbers since.