A second newborn baby born infected with the AIDS virus has been given a promising but controversial treatment that researchers hope, but don’t dare to say, may provide a working “cure” for the virus.
Last year, AIDS researchers made headlines with the news that a baby born in Mississippi had gone for more than a year without treatment after getting an experimental high-dose cocktail of HIV medicines right after she was born. They called it a “functional cure” but said it would be years before anyone knew for sure that the child would escape infection.
They’ve been looking for more newborns since then to try the approach on. Last spring, a child was born in Long Beach, Calif. to a woman who doctors knew was not taking her HIV medication. The infant was treated immediately and the virus is now barely detectable.
The first child is now more than 3½ and still healthy, Dr. Hannah Gay of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, who has been treating the infant, said in a statement.
“She has not taken any medicines for almost two years and her virus has not returned,” Gay said. “We are thrilled that she continues to do so well.”
Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore told a meeting of AIDS experts Wednesday that the second child, now 9 months old, is also healthy.
It’s far too soon to declare a cure for either, Persaud said. The second child has stayed on a regimen of HIV drugs, which act to control any virus that might still be in her body. But she has done extensive tests on both children and can find no sign of the virus. “We used the same rigorous lab testing the Mississippi child underwent,” Persaud told NBC News.
The human immunodeficiency virus is incurable, and it will kill people who don’t get treated. But cocktails of strong drugs can control it.
The Mississippi child, who is not being identified, was born to a mother who did not know she was infected. Usually, if a woman knows she has HIV doctors give her HIV drugs before delivery and they dose the baby right after birth. If done right, this treatment around birth can prevent 95 percent of infections.
That didn’t happen in this case, and when the baby came back for treatment, doctors discovered the infection and gave her a cocktail of three drugs at a dose normally reserved for more advanced cases. It worked really well – pushing her virus down to what’s called undetectable levels.
First published March 5 2014, 9:18 AM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.