A US baby girl born with HIV has been cured after very early treatment with standard drug therapy, researchers say.
The Mississippi child is now two-and-a-half years old and has been off HIV drugs for about a year with no signs of infection.
More testing needs to be done to see if the treatment would have the same effect on other children.
But the case could change the way high-risk babies are treated and possibly lead to a cure for children with HIV, which causes Aids.
“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” said Dr Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
She presented the findings at the conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.
If the baby stays healthy, it would be only the second reported case of a person who has recovered from HIV after that of Timothy Ray Brown, known as “Berlin patient”, in 2007.
His HIV infection was completely eradicated through an elaborate treatment for leukaemia that involved the destruction of his immune system and a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection.
The treatment used for the baby girl was, however, very different as it involved the use of a cocktail of widely available drugs already used to treat HIV infection in infants.
The girl was born in a rural hospital to a woman who had just tested positive for HIV infection.
Because her mother had not received any prenatal HIV treatment, doctors knew the child was born at high risk of being infected.
So they transferred the baby to the University of Mississippi Medical Centre in Jackson, where she was put on a cocktail of three standard HIV-fighting drugs when she was just 30 hours old – even before lab tests came back confirming her infection.
After starting on treatment under the care of Dr Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist, the baby’s immune system responded and tests showed levels of the virus were diminishing until it was undetectable 29 days after birth.
The baby received regular treatment for 18 months, but then stopped coming to appointments for a period of about 10 months, when her mother said she was not given any treatment.
When the child came back under the care of Dr Gay, she ordered standard blood tests to see how the child was faring before resuming antiviral therapy.
The first blood test did not turn up any detectible levels of HIV. Neither did the second.
And tests for HIV-specific antibodies – the standard clinical indicator of HIV infection – also remained negative.
“At that point, I knew I was dealing with a very unusual case,” Dr Gay said.
Further, more sophisticated blood tests followed, and there was no detectible virus in the child’s blood.
The doctors advised that she not be given antiretroviral therapy. Instead, she will be monitored.
Dr Rowena Johnston, vice president and director of research for the Foundation for Aids Research, which helped fund the study, said it is “imperative that we learn more about a newborn’s immune system, how it differs from an adult’s and what factors made it possible for the child to be cured”.