A South African child has been in remission from HIV, without signs or symptoms of the active virus for almost a decade, following a short treatment administered shortly after birth.
The nine-year-old, whose identity is being kept secret for their protection, was diagnosed with the condition around the time of their birth in 2007.
The newborn was quickly found to have high levels of HIV present in their bloodstream, and was put on a clinical trial for early-life treatment, which was not standard practice at the time.
The trial involved the child being administered a burst of antiretroviral drugs, beginning at nine-weeks old until they were 40-weeks old when the virus became undetectable, and since that time they have not required any more treatment to fight the disease.
The family is said to be “really delighted” with the results, according to the BBC.
This is not strictly a ‘cure’ as HIV is able to lay dormant inside the human body without detection for long periods of time, before returning, and the virus has been detected in the child’s immune cells.
But this is indeed a step in the right direction as most people who are HIV positive have to take daily antiretroviral drugs in order to protect their immune system and prevent them developing AIDS.
So understanding how this child has thrived without treatment could provide essential clues about a new method of treatment. Especially because there were other children in the trial, who received the same early treatment, but didn’t have the same outcome.
Dr Avy Violari said: “We don’t really know what’s the reason why this child has achieved remission - we believe it’s either genetic or immune system-related.”
Early therapy, which attacks the virus before it has a chance to fully establish itself in the child, has been implicated in two similar cases before the latest instance.
The ‘Mississippi baby’ was put on treatment within 30 hours of birth and went 27 months without treatment before HIV re-emerged. There was also a case in France where the patient went 11 years without treatment.