In an almost-unprecedented medical milestone, a baby born with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the precursor to AIDS, appears to have been cured of the infection after being treated with an aggressive new drug regimen.
It is only the second documented case of a person being entirely cured of HIV infection.
The case results were reported by researchers at a news conference on Sunday in advance of their presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The researchers announced that a Mississippi child born with HIV had been completely cured of the infection following birth about 2-1/2 years ago.
"You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told the Associated Press.
The mother of the baby was found to be HIV-positive during labor, causing doctors at a rural Mississippi hospital to drastically change their approach to the child during delivery. Soon after the birth, physicians began an intensive three-drug treatment much stronger than is typically recommended for an infant.
The extreme nature of the treatment seemingly destroyed all remnants of HIV inside the child’s body. Typically, HIV is able to enter a dormant state in “hideouts” inside a host’s body, allowing the virus to re-emerge after a patient stops taking prescribed drugs. In this child, however, the HIV was destroyed before it could ever enter that state, leading to what is effectively a cure for the virus.
"I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot," Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, told AP.
Scientists stressed that this method of treatment will not work in adults and that no one should go off their HIV medication as a result of this story.
The only other documented case of a similar nature was that of a Berlin man who was cured of HIV after a bone-marrow transplant in 2007.
The number of babies born with AIDS in the U.S. in recent years has been drastically shrinking, thanks to an antiretroviral treatment commonly prescribed to HIV-positive mothers-to-be.
While fewer than 200 HIV-positive babies are now born in the U.S. annually, there are many more born elsewhere because mothers-to-be in Africa and other impoverished areas do not have access to these drugs. As a result, between 300,000 and 400,000 HIV-infected infants are born each year, with as many as 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Wall Street Journal.