In July 2010 a woman went into labour and was simultaneously diagnosed with the HIV virus. Her baby girl was treated for the virus with very potent antiretroviral drugs. Two years later, a research team at Johns Hopkins hospital have found that disease has been prevented from developing in the baby and she is to all intents and purposes cured. But is this a miracle and just an isolated exceptional case or is it a genuine cause for hope of a true cure for HIV. Certainly the researchers are talking in terms of a â€˜major landmarkâ€™ on the journey towards eradicating HIV.
As soon as the pregnant young woman was diagnosed, her carers realized that her baby was at great risk of contracting the infection. They took the decision to treat the infant with three times the normal quantity of HIV medication when she was not even two days old. Blood tests just this month show no indications of HIV being present in the child. It is what is called, a â€˜functional cure.’
The drugs it seems overwhelmed the virus before it had chance to take hold in the infantâ€™s cells. And if worked for one why shouldnâ€™t it work for others? At an AIDS symposium in Atlanta last week, experts were raising the idea of eradicating HIV within a generation. Certainly the National Health Institutes are saying, â€˜You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that weâ€™ve seen.â€™
A combination of unique circumstance led to this breakthrough. The mother in the case had received no prior treatment for her HIV positive condition. Her child was therefore in almost certain danger of contracting the virus. The child, like her mother had none of the usual treatments for babies in her condition. The small hospital where the woman was admitted did not have the recommended liquid dosage of â€˜nevirapineâ€™. This is the usual low-level HIV medication given to new-borns at risk.
Thus mother and child were admitted to the MIssissippi University hospital where specialist treatment was available. Because of the extreme likelihood of inherited infection the specialist at Mississippi, took the unprecedented step of giving the child a mixture of 3 HIV drugs; Nevirapine, Zidovudine (AZT) and Lamivudine. The doctor judged it to be the best hope of good outcome from a bad situation and says, â€˜We canâ€™t promise to cure babies who are infected. We can promise to prevent the vast majority of transmissions if the moms are tested during every pregnancy.â€™
Two years on from that fateful, fortunate day all tests possible have returned negative results for the presence of the virus in the little girlâ€™s blood. She has not been taking any other treatments for nearly a year and there still are no indications of infection. There are no guarantees that this situation will continue for the rest of the girlâ€™s life but hopes are high that this will be the case.