In an astounding feat of science, yesterday U.S. doctors made history by curing a child born with HIV.
The Guardian reports:
The infant, who is now two and a half, needs no medication for HIV, has a normal life expectancy and is highly unlikely to be infectious to others, doctors believe.
Though medical staff and scientists are unclear why the treatment was effective, the surprise success has raised hopes that the therapy might ultimately help doctors eradicate the virus among newborns.
This is an interesting case in that while 98% of children born to HIV positive mothers have received enough antiretroviral drugs to minimize the amount of virus in their blood, “the mother [of this child] was unaware she had HIV until after a standard test came back positive while she was in labour.”
“She was too near delivery to give even the dose of medicine that we routinely use in labour. So the baby’s risk of infection was significantly higher than we usually see,” said Gay.
Doctors began treating the baby 30 hours after birth. Unusually, they put the child on a course of three antiretroviral drugs, given as liquids through a syringe. The traditional treatment to try to prevent transmission after birth is a course of a single antiretroviral drug. The doctor opted for the more aggressive treatment because the mother had not received any during her pregnancy.
Several days later, blood drawn from the baby before treatment started showed the child was infected, probably shortly before birth. The doctors continued with the drugs and expected the child to take them for life.
However, within a month of starting therapy, the level of HIV in the baby’s blood had fallen so low that routine lab tests failed to detect it.
The team believe the child was cured because the treatment was so potent and given swiftly after birth. The drugs stopped the virus from replicating in short-lived, active immune cells, but another effect was crucial. The drugs also blocked the infection of other, long-lived white blood cells, called CD4, which can harbour HIV for years. These CD4 cells behave like hideouts, and can replace HIV that is lost when active immune cells die.
Hopefully this does not prove to be just an extraordinary case.
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