MISSISSIPPI – A Mississippi baby scientists thought was “functionally cured” of HIV now has detectable levels of the virus in her blood, her doctors say.
The news is disappointing for a case the scientific community hailed just last year as a potential game changer in the fight against AIDS.
“It felt like a punch to the gut,” Dr Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said of seeing signs of the virus on test results earlier this month.
“It was extremely disappointing from both the scientific standpoint . . . but mainly for the sake of the child who is back on medicine and expected to stay
on medicine for a very long time.”
Media outlets around the world covered the Mississippi case when it was first made public in March 2013. CNN updated its story again in October when researchers announced the toddler was still HIV free.
The child was born to a mother who received no prenatal care and was not diagnosed as HIV-positive herself until just before delivery.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to treat the mom during the pregnancy as we would like to be able to do, to prevent transmission to the baby,” Gay said last year.
Doctors administered high doses of three antiretroviral drugs 30 hours after the girl was born in case she was infected. They hoped to control the virus, which was not detectable at the time. The child remained on antiretroviral drugs for approximately 18 months. Her mother then stopped administering the drugs
for an unknown reason.
A few months later, doctors said the little girl had no evidence of the life-threatening disease in her blood. They announced that the girl was the first child to be “functionally cured” of HIV. A “functional cure” is when the presence of the virus is so small, lifelong treatment is not necessary and standard clinical tests cannot detect the virus in the blood.
However, during a routine doctor visit early this month, tests detected HIV antibodies in the now four-year-old child. Her T-cell count was also low, indicating a weakened immune system. More than two years after being taken off the medication, doctors started her again on antiretroviral therapy.
She will need to be on these medications for life – or until scientists find a cure for HIV.