If you are anything like me, you put down your cup of coffee this morning to read an amazing news article about a child in Mississippi being "cured" of HIV. Yesterday at a major AIDS meeting held in Atlanta, scientists unraveled a story about a child born from an HIV+ mother who no longer shows signs of the virus in their system.
As the story goes, the mother did not previously receive prenatal care (still an issue in the south as you can see in my previous post about HIV prevalence in Louisiana) and was found to be HIV+ while in labor. In such situations, once the child is born doctors typically administer a low dose HIV drug therapy to help increase the child's protection against the virus. However, what makes this case different than others is the fact that the regular drug therapy was not available so they administered a faster and stronger treatment. This trio of drugs was given to the child within 30 hours of birth, before there were any results that confirmed the child was infected. The drugs were continued until 18 months later when the family began to stop treatment. After several months had passed, the family returned with the child and to the shock of the family and their doctor, Dr. Hannah Gay, standard blood tests did not detect the virus. After this visit, ten months passed without the child continuing treatment and again the sensitive tests did not detect signs of the virus. What was found were mere remnants of genetic material that are thought not able to replicate.
What does this mean in the world of HIV prevention and treatment? Well, it unlocks further questions in our fight against the virus and new information that may lead to treatments which may be highly effective for CERTAIN individuals.
Let me clarify that last statement, this is a very unusual situation and cannot be applied to the general population. Much like the case of the "Berlin Patient" aka Timothy Ray Brown, this is a case that can provide more enlightenment for other infants born to HIV+ women without prenatal care, and not to adults living with or at risk for the virus. A child's immune system is still completely underdeveloped after birth. It is not until years later that the immune system is fully running and stable. For this child, they used potent medications on an immune system that was not fully developed which could have aided the result.
Unlike children, once HIV enters the body it has the ability to search for hideouts . These hideouts are areas where the virus can stay dormant until an adult stops treatment, which then allows the virus to rapidly replicate in the system causing the viral load to increase.
In a world where 300,000 children were born with HIV in 2011, this provides us with tremendous hope for these future leaders of society and treatment options that can lead to further suppression of the virus. However, it also continues to inform us of the state of medical care and the lack of resources that countless individuals around the world suffer from.