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Another baby born with HIV, who was treated immediately after birth, may have been cured of the disease, doctors announced at a Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston.

Last year at the same conference, scientists had claimed that a baby born with HIV was cured by prompt antiretroviral treatment, initiated only 30 hours after birth. The child, famously known as the "Mississippi baby", now three and a half years old, is still virus-free.

The latest baby girl, also referred to as "Long Beach baby" now expected to be free of the virus, is nine months old and was tested negative for HIV.

Researcher peers had expressed doubts if the Mississippi baby ever had HIV, before concluding for sure that treatment really works if started soon after birth.

This time, however, paediatrician Dr Audra Deveikis tested the Long Beach baby for HIV about four hours after her birth. Her blood and spinal fluid samples were positive for the virus. She was started on AZT, 3TC and nevirapine at high doses and the virus receded just six days after birth and became undetectable in 11 days.

Dr Deveikis said that they would briefly stop administration of drugs when the baby is two years old so that it could be determined if the child remains free of the disease after the treatment.

The doctor cautioned that "cured" or "in remission" are not the right words to describe the baby's health status as of now.

However, since she is testing negative for the virus, the baby can be said to have "sero-reverted to HIV-negative".

8 Similar Cases

The New York Times quoted a leading researcher at the meeting as saying that a total of eight similar cases are being treated in Canada and South Africa.

In addition, clinical trial is set to begin on 60 babies who were born HIV-positive. The infants will be started on the treatment within 48 hours of their birth.

"This could lead to major changes, for two reasons," said Dr Anthony S Fauci, executive director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Both for the welfare of the child, and because it is a huge proof of concept that you can cure someone if you can treat them early enough."

The Mississippi baby's treatment was started by paediatrician Dr Hannah B Gay about 30 hours after his birth. About 18 months later, the mother discontinued his drugs and skipped appointments.

When she finally came to the doctors with the baby, they feared that the virus would have spread in the baby's system, but they were surprised to find no signs of the virus. Now, the child is over three years old and still free of HIV.

Experts say that the negative tests on the Long Beach baby corroborate the past findings that HIV can be cleared in babies if the treatment starts very early after birth.