Are We a Step Closer to Finding the Cure for AIDS

By Julissa Catalan

A second baby born with HIV may have been cured of the virus four hours after her birth.

According to a 2013 study conducted by the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR):

  • The amount of AIDS diagnoses reported among women has more than tripled since 1985;
  • the vast majority of women diagnosed with HIV contracted the virus through heterosexual sex;
  • Blacks constitute 64 percent of the diagnosed women with HIV/AIDS in 2011;
  • Blacks and Latinos represent only 27 percent of all the women in the U.S., but they account for 79 percent of AIDS cases among women;
  • Black women have an HIV prevalence rate nearly four times that of white women;
  • for women in their reproductive years (1549), HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death;
  • in 2012, 62 percent of pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries received effective drug regimens to prevent new HIV infections in their children.

Doctors made the announcement about the second HIV-free baby at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston.

The infant is from Los Angeles and was born last Aprila month after researchers made the announcement of the first baby who was cured, at the same annual conference.

The first case was a girl dubbed the “Mississippi baby,” and the results led doctors to explore their approachif the virus can be caught before it creates a permanent home, the virus can be cured. The “Mississippi baby,” now almost four years old, appears to be HIV-free and has not needed treatment for the last two years.

The status of the “Los Angeles baby”who is now nine monthsis not as definitive, as she is still receiving medication, but advanced testing already suggests she is completely clear of the virus.

According to The New York Times, testing by Dr. Deborah Persaud, the Johns Hopkins University doctor who is leading the study, found no trace of the virus, “despite using tests normally able to detect dormant virus in adult patients on successful treatment.” In addition, “although antiretrovirals prevent the virus from replicating, a small amount usually persists in reservoirs throughout the body, integrated into the DNA of cell. Dr. Persaud’s test can activate those cells and force them to ‘spit out’ the virus, where it can be detected.”

According to Dr. Persaud, the baby’s symptoms and progress are already different from babies whose virus is suppressed.

Doctors are cautious to label the babies as cured, since they are a medical first and therefore their progression needs to be monitored over an extended period of time, but Dr. Persuad will refer to them as “having sero-reverted to HIV-negative.”

In most cases, HIV-positive pregnant mothers receive HIV medications while pregnant, which lessens the chance that the mother will pass on the virus to her baby.

The mother from Mississippi, however, was not diagnosed with the virus until she was already in labor, making the newborn high risk. Treatment on the baby began 30 hours after her birthbefore she was even properly diagnosed positive with the virus. She was treated until she was 18 months, but then her mother discontinued visits for 10 months. When she did return, doctors found no signs of the infectioneven though her mother had stopped giving her the HIV medicines during those 10 months.

The mother from Los Angeles, however, did know she was infected with the virus but did not take her HIV medications. She was given medication while in labor in an attempt to prevent transmission, and the baby was started on medication within a few hours of birth. Tests did confirm that the baby was in fact positive, though she does not appear to be now.

The baby is now in foster care, on continuing medication and “looking very healthy,” said Dr. Bryson.

Dr. Bryson is leading the federally funded study. She believes very early detection and treatment can cure the HIV infection in infants. Specialists in the U.S., South Africa, and Brazil will be on alert for HIV-positive pregnant mothers who have not taken preventive mother-to-child transmission medicines. Sixty babies around the world will receive very aggressive treatment for two years. If no infection is detected after that time, the treatment may be discontinued, and they could be considered HIV-free.

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