A South African child infected with HIV at birth has spent most of their life without any need for treatment, it has been revealed.
The nine-year-old, who was diagnosed at just a few weeks old, has been in remission for eight-and-a-half years with no signs or symptoms of the virus being active. Though HIV is still detectable in the child’s immune cells, scientists believe that understanding exactly how he/she developed protection could lead to newer drugs, or even an anti-HIV vaccine.
The child’s doctor, Dr Avy Violari – head of paediatric research at the Perinal HIV Research Unit in Johannesburg – called the youngster “unique”, as well as describing how infrequent this case was.
“This is the only child showing remission; we cannot see virus in the blood using standard techniques,” she said. “This is really very rare.”
The virus was passed on by the child’s mother around the time of their birth in 2007. Though it was not standard practice at the time, the patient received early antiretroviral therapy (ART) from nine-weeks-old as part of a clinical trial. Gradually, the child’s HIV levels became undetectable and treatment was halted after only 40 weeks. Unlike anyone else on the study, the virus has not yet returned. If scientists can replicate the child’s capability to control the virus in the form of a drug, antibody or vaccine, it may have the potential to help other HIV positive patients in the future.
It is estimated that 36.7 million people around the world are currently living with HIV, while only 53% of them are receiving ART. Most HIV patients require daily treatment to prevent the virus from destroying their immune system and triggering AIDS. This is the third time that early therapy – which attacks the virus before it can properly establish itself – has been a factor in such child ‘cure cases’; in fact, one patient in France has maintained undetectable levels of HIV for well over a decade without medication.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that, though there will always be outliers, ‘this case highlights the possibility to see long-term remission.’
“Further study is needed to learn how to induce long-term HIV remission in infected babies,” he said. “However, this new case strengthens our hope that by treating HIV-infected children for a brief period beginning in infancy, we may be able to spare them the burden of lifelong therapy.”
Testing is the only way to be certain of your HIV status, and Better2Know provides several, highly accurate testing options. Our 10-day HIV RNA PCR test is appropriate for those who may have been exposed to the virus at least 10 days before being tested. For exposures that occurred at least four weeks before testing, our fourth generation, 28-day HIV DUO test is available. We also offer Instant HIV testing throughout the UK. This popular testing option uses a simple blood sample to detect both types of HIV (types I & II) as well as the p24 antigen. The test is suitable just 26 days after an incident of concern and you should receive your results within 30 minutes, while you wait in the clinic.
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