Found: A cure for HIV
In a pathbreaking, documented work, doctors have functionally cured a child in the US of HIV infection. But is it too early to pin hopes on a way to kill the virus?
Hitting early, hard
The baby is born in a rural hospital in Mississippi, US. Mother had just tested positive for HIV. Within 30 hours of birth, baby is put on a cocktail of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) drugs — zidovudine, lamivudine, and nevirapine — instead of a single dosage; nothing invasive
Drop in count
Viral load begins to go down after a week and was eventually undetectable; ART is continued for 18 months
Mother goes AWOL with the child for about five months; medication is, therefore, stopped
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But a battery of tests proves otherwise. Child is declared ‘functionally cured’, rather than completely cured. That is because the virus is not totally eradicated; its presence is reduced to such a low level that a body can control it without the need for standard drug treatment
Now 21/2 years old, the child has been off drugs for a year with no sign of functioning virus
The precursor In 2007, Timothy Ray Brown, aka ‘the Berlin patient’, was the first person reported to have recovered from HIV. His immune system was destroyed as part of a treatment for leukaemia. It was then restored with a stem-cell transplant from a woman naturally-resistant to HIV
Can we beat HIV, every time?
The US case was peculiar. Doctors were able to hit the virus hard and early. This is not possible in adults, who will acquire HIV months — if not years — before they find out. But, for sure, this approach is not going to provide a cure for the vast majority of HIV patients
Will it work on older kids?
More testing is needed to see if it will have the same effect on other children. The doctors who studied the girl believe that she was cured because the treatment was so potent and given swiftly after birth. It will not work on older children because the virus would have
already infected their cells
3.3L children were infected with HIV as of 2011
25% of HIV+ve infants die within a year in India
50% in 2 years
5% cases in India are due to mother-to-child transmission
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