News & Politics

Scientists: Baby Cured of HIV

For the first time in history, a baby born with HIV lives virus-free without treatment.

A baby girl in Mississippi has been “functionally-cured” of HIV after very early treatment with three antiretroviral drugs, scientists reported Sunday. The revelation could change how doctors treat babies born with the virus, potentially cutting the rates of HIV-positive newborns in the future.

"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. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins University.

Typically, doctors wait six weeks for an HIV blood test before administering drugs to HIV-positive babies. But doctors started treating the Mississippi baby as soon as it was revealed the mother had HIV. Within 29 days, doctors could no longer detect the virus.

They lost contact with the mother for 10 months, and when she returned to the hospital, doctors expected to detect high levels of the HIV virus in the baby. But the baby’s blood showed no sign of functioning virus after a year without treatment.

"At that point, I knew I was dealing with a very unusual case," Dr. Hannah Gay, who treated the baby, told Reuters.

If other researchers confirm the report, the Mississippi will be the second known case of a HIV cure in the world. The first reported case was Timothy Brown, a man who was cured after doctors administered an HIV-resistant, bone-marrow transfer to treat his leukemia.

Dr. Persaud says, following further research, the Mississippi case could be the Timothy Brown for babies.

"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," Persaud pointed out.

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.

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