On March 4th 2013 the news broke that a baby, born in rural Mississippi, had been cured of the HIV virus. This amazing claim came after a lengthy period of treatment and recovery. The infant girl, now 2 and a half years old, has since been tested by a number of doctors since the conclusion of her treatment for signs of the virus returning. No trace has been found.
It is thought that the success in this particular case is down to the speed with which the drugs were administered to the infant. Just 30 hours after her birth the baby girl received her first treatment, a mixture of three commonly-used HIV-tackling drugs, which were then regularly administered for 18 months. The rapid response of the doctors meant that the virus was unable to establish itself inside the girl’s body and reach greater strength.
This is good news and represents a positive step in fighting HIV, however there is still a great deal of testing, research and further study required before a cure can be identified. The treatment in the case of this infant girl was successful because the virus was under-developed, weak and yet to take hold in her body. The treatment would therefore be ineffective at treating adolescent and adult sufferers of the disease.
The question now is what this means for future treatment of the virus. Rather than fighting and destroying an entrenched disease, this mixture of drugs was able to suppress a weakened infection. Some medical professionals are therefore reluctant to celebrate a ‘cure’ just yet.
HIV is a global issue. It is estimated that there are over three million children around the world currently living with the virus that causes AIDS. Any development in the area of fighting the virus will be watched closely by the medical community.
This is not the first case to demonstrate that HIV can be cured. In 2007 Timothy Brown was officially cured of the disease after suffering with its effects since 1995. Using the same drugs as in the Mississippi infant case, as well as chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant from a HIV-resistant donor, Brown was able to beat the infection. 6 years on he is still HIV-negative.
The news of the infants’ success at beating the disease also presents an opportunity for a HIV awareness campaign. It is an opportunity to educate the public about modern treatments and the ongoing efforts to develop a cure for the virus.
Doctors must now work hard to replicate the success of this case in other instances of infant infection. If an effective, reliable method of treatment can be tested and proven successful, then their research can be rolled out across the globe to tackle HIV in newborns. The 2-year-old girl will need to be monitored throughout her life to see if the virus returns, but for now it looks like the treatment has been a success.