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MANILA, Philippines - Scientists in the United States said Sunday, March 3, that they have successfully cured a baby of HIV through drug therapy, a breakthrough that could possibly help thousands of HIV-positive babies worldwide.
The findings of the study, conducted by scientists from the Johns Hopkins University and University of Massachusetts in the United States, were revealed prior to its presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, Georgia.
Now aged two and a half, the baby was born in a rural Mississippi hospital in 2010 to a mother who did not know she was HIV-positive until shortly before giving birth. Thus, there was no time to give medication to the mom.
Doctors at the hospital gave the baby a regimen of AIDS drugs approximately 30 hours after birth, and continued medication for 18 months, when the mother stopped giving the child the medicines.
The infant, whose identity is being kept confidential, was likely infected when she was in the womb, Hannah Gay, the child's doctor at the University of Mississippi, said.
The patient's viral load started going down a week into the drug regimen, which included high doses of anti-retroviral drugs that are widely available, approved by regulatory agencies, and are already in the market, reports said.
After 18 months of treatment, the doctors lost contact with the mother and child, and when she returned to the doctor after 5 months, the tests showed the baby was already HIV negative.
Repeated tests using more sensitive methods still showed the kid was free of the virus.
The child is still HIV-free, and researchers said the early treatment could be the key to the "functional cure" of the child. This means the viral presence went down to levels that regular tests can't detect, and the patient will not need lifetime treatment.
One theory is that the early treatment killed the virus even before it could establish a "hidden reservoir" in a patient's body. In this state, the virus becomes dormant and "hides," and usually emerges when treatment is stopped.
Some scientists said it could also be possible that the treatment actually stopped the virus from infecting the baby, instead of curing the patient, the New York Times reported.
This could lead to a possible cure for children with HIV, but scientists will have to conduct more tests to see if the same treatment will have the same effect on other patients.
More than 3 million children around the world are living with the virus, and the United Nations estimates
The only other documented case of a patient cured of HIV was that of the "Berlin patient," Timothy Brown.
Brown, an American residing in Germany, was suffering from HIV and leukemia in 2007 when he underwent a bone marrow transplant that cured him of both diseases.
As of 2012, Brown said he is still HIV-free. - Rappler.com