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Announced on Sunday, a child from Mississippi--whose name and gender were not released to protect his or her identity--has been effectively cured of HIV. Now two-and-half years old, the toddler no longer needs medication for the AIDS virus, and doctors believe he or she has a normal life expectancy and is highly unlikely to be infectious to others.
This is the first time such a case has been documented, and though medical staff and scientists are uncertain why the treatment was effective, the success raises hope that the therapy might ultimately help doctors cure the virus among newborns and small children--especially in Africa where there is an estimated 3.4 million children living with HIV at the end of 2011, 91% of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Hannah Gay, who cared for the child at the University of Mississippi medical center, told the Guardian the case amounted to the first "functional cure" of an HIV-infected child. "Now, after at least one year of taking no medicine, this child's blood remains free of virus even on the most sensitive tests available," she said.
Dr. Gay gave the baby faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth, according to the Huffington Post. That was before tests confirmed the baby was infected and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn't diagnosed until she was in labor. "I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot," Gay added.
"You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health to The Associated Press. No one should stop anti-AIDS drugs as a result of this case, he cautioned. However, he added that "it opens up a lot of doors" to research if other children can be helped. "It makes perfect sense what happened," he said.