The breakthrough that the medical community has been waiting appears to have finally happened. U.S. scientists announced on Sunday the cure of a Mississippi child born with AIDS.
Scientists announced the breakthrough at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta. However, while the child, now two and a half years old has stopped medication for almost one year with no signs of infection, they admitted there is no guarantee the child will remain healthy.
They made the clarification in light of high-tech testing which still found traces of the HIV virus still lingering.
"You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen," The Associated Press quoted Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.
The functional cure was based on early intervention as the infant, within 30 hours of birth, was started on a three-drug therapy even prior to confirmation of HIV infection. The child's mother, a rural resident, was discovered to have HIV only when she went into labour.
Dr Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, said she decided to start the newborn on medication because the infant was at higher-than-normal risk for HIV infection.
Her strategy worked because the swift action seems to have knocked out the HIV in the infant's blood before it could form hideouts in the body.
However, despite the child's apparent cure, Mr Fauci said people taking anti-AIDS drugs should not stop taking their medication. He said the case of the child only opened up a lot of doors to research if other children could be helped.
The treatment offers hope for children born with AIDS, which numbered 300,000 in 2011, mostly in poor countries. But in the U.S., such births are quite rare because of inclusion of HIV testing and treatment as part of prenatal care.
"We can't promise to cure babies who are infected. We can promise to prevent the vast majority of transmission if the moms are tested during every pregnancy," Dr Gay pointed out.
The child's cure followed reports of a male AIDS victim, previously known as the Berlin patient, who was cured of AIDS. Reports identified him as Timothy Brown, who received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor genetically resistant to HIV infection.
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