Mississippi, US: Scientists in the US have claimed that a baby born with the AIDS virus appears to have been cured.
The two-and-a-half year old child from Mississippi has been off medication for about a year with no signs of infection - sophisticated testing uncovered just traces of the virus` genetic material still lingering.
Although there`s no guarantee the child will remain healthy, if the child pulls it through then it would mark the world`s second reported cure.
Specialists made the announcement on Sunday at a major AIDS meeting in Atlanta, saying the development offers promising clues for efforts to eliminate HIV infection in children, especially in AIDS-plagued African countries where too many babies are born with the virus.
A doctor gave this baby faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth. That was before tests confirmed the infant was infected and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn`t diagnosed until she was in labour.
"I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot," Dr Hannah Gay, a paediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, said in an interview.
That fast action apparently knocked out HIV in the baby`s blood before it could form hideouts in the body. Those so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly reinfect anyone who stops medication, said Dr Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children`s Centre. She led the investigation that deemed the child "functionally cured", meaning in long-term remission even if all traces of the virus haven`t been completely eradicated.
Next, Dr Persaud`s team is planning a study to try to prove that, with more aggressive treatment of other high-risk babies.
About 300,000 children were born with HIV in 2011, mostly in poor countries where only about 60 per cent of infected pregnant women get treatment that can keep them from passing the virus to their babies. In the US, such births are very rare because HIV testing and treatment long have been part of prenatal care.
The only other person considered cured of the AIDS virus underwent a very different and risky kind of treatment - a bone marrow transplant from a special donor, one of the rare people who is naturally resistant to HIV. Timothy Ray Brown of San Francisco has not needed HIV medications in the five years since that transplant.
In the Mississippi case, the mother had had no prenatal care when she came to a rural emergency room in advanced labour. A rapid test detected HIV. In such cases, doctors typically give the newborn low-dose medication in hopes of preventing HIV from taking root. But the small hospital didn`t have the proper liquid kind, and sent the infant to Dr Gay`s medical centre. She gave the baby higher treatment-level doses.
With agency inputs