March 8, 2013
A New Day For An HIV-Free Girl
A new and wonderful moment recently happened in medicine. At the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, Georgia, researchers announced findings that a young girl was functionally cured of HIV. According to a CNN article about the cure, functional cure means that the presence of a virus is so small that lifelong treatment is not necessary. Furthermore, functional cure means that standard clinical tests cannot detect the virus in the blood.
The young girl is from Mississippi and was born HIV positive. Her mother was not diagnosed with HIV until just before she delivered the child, thus she had no prenatal care for the virus. Science Daily explained that as soon as the young girl was born, her doctors put her on a serious antiretroviral therapy.
She took high doses of three antiretroviral drugs within 30 hours of her birth. Then she continued the therapy until she was 18 months old, at which point she ceased taking the drugs (although neither CNN nor Science Daily explained why). At 23 months she was brought back into HIV care. This is when the discovery peaked its eyes out. Despite not having had the drugs for five months, the young child underwent some highly sensitive tests; all of which found an absence of HIV.
For all intents and purposes, at this point doctors are declaring the young girl cured.
What an incredible discovery for science and medicine, but, more importantly, what a gift to the young girl. She did not contract HIV by her own doing. She contracted the virus via her mother’s womb. Because the mother did not receive prenatal HIV treatments, which prevents HIV-positive mothers from passing on the virus 98 percent of the time according to a redOrbit blog about this, this little girl could have spent the rest of her life on heavy medication, not to mention the psychological toll it could have taken.
Now, though, due to the intervention and treatment of the child’s doctor, Dr. Hannah Gay, HIV specialist in Pediatrics, this little girl can lead a virtually normal life. She will not have to take loads of pills and drugs and medications. She will not have to worry about passing her virus onto those she loves. She will be a child with no disease, virus, or difference. What a gift.
This young Mississippi girl is not the lone cure. Science Daily noted that, “The only other documented case of an HIV cure to date remains that of Timothy Brown, the so-called ‘Berlin patient.’ In 2006, while on treatment for HIV, Mr. Brown was diagnosed with leukemia. His physician was able to treat his leukemia with a stem-cell transplant from a person who was born with a genetic mutation causing immunity to HIV infection. Following the transplant, Mr. Brown was able to stop HIV treatment without experiencing a return of his HIV disease.”
Here then are two examples of HIV cures in very different ways. For so long doctors, scientists, and researchers have been searching for a cure for HIV. Perhaps the answer is not just one catch-all cure but is multiple plans of action.
Moments like this and discoveries in science and health inspire me for our future. HIV has lost the limelight recently. Other diseases, viruses, and issues have crept into the spotlight, but that does not make HIV any less of a threat. HIV is very real, and it is still a very serious issue. Now, though, perhaps we have another course of action, a new hope.
Image Credit: Photos.com