Research aimed at finding a cure for HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, has made a major breakthrough: recently, a baby born HIV-positive has been cured of the virus. This recent cure involved an intense sequence of antiretroviral drugs which began when the baby was barely one day old. Today, this child is two-and-a-half years old and is living a life free from HIV.
How exactly was this drug series prescribed, though? Well, prior to the baby’s birth, the mother arrived at a rural Mississippi hospital and tests revealed that she may be positive for HIV. After the birth, Dr. Hannah B. Gay prescribed blood tests in order to examine the nucleic acids contained in the baby’s circulation; these tests showed that the virus was indeed present in the baby’s system, but still at a low concentration of about 20,000 copies per milliliter. Dr. Gay then prescribed an unorthodox treatment: intense drug therapy. Generally when faced with such low test results, doctors do not prescribe drug therapy because there still is much uncertainty concerning the legitimacy of the infection; rather, a doctor could prescribe drugs that could stave off the chance of an infection occurring. However, in this case, Dr. Gay ordered this intense drug therapy to attack the virus immediately, despite its low concentration. As time went on, it looked like the virus was decreasing in the baby’s system. Incredibly enough, when the baby was only one month old, the virus seemed to be totally eradicated. Even five months after the drug therapy administration ceased, the virus was almost completely absent from the baby’s system. It was not absolutely gone, though, in that some viral genetic material was uncovered; however, this was simply just genetic material. There was no way for it to replicate and spread around the body. How incredible; the child was cured.
Researchers are scratching their heads after looking at this case, searching for a reason behind this miraculous cure. Some say that since the virus was found in such an early stage of the infection, the drugs were able to eradicate the low concentration of the virus before the infection worsened, before the virus could collect in parts of the body and become dormant. This is one way by which viruses can attack a person’s system even after drugs are administered; the drugs do not affect those in the dormant state and when the drugs are stopped, the virus can awaken and attack.
While there are few cases in the United States where HIV is passed from mother to child, there are a multitude of cases as these in the developing world. For those cases, this type of drug therapy cure could be a beacon of hope. Further research must be conducted, but at the current moment, the study of the treatment, management, and cure for HIV seems to have made a major breakthrough.
Written by Aishwarya Vishwanath.