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Utah doctor: Apparent HIV cure encouraging, not definitive

By Carole Mikita | Posted - Mar 4th, 2013 @ 7:28pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — The medical world is looking to Jackson, Miss. — where a baby born with HIV may be the first documented case of a child cured of the virus.

Utah Dr. Andrew Pavia, an expert in children's infectious diseases at the University of Utah, said while the news is encouraging, there's still much to be explored when it comes to finding a true cure.

"No one wants this to be the beginning of the path to a cure more than I do, but I think we can't jump the gun here," said Pavia. "We have to learn more."

No one wants this to be the beginning of the path to a cure more than I do, but I think we can't jump the gun here. We have to learn more.

–Dr. Andrew Pavia, University of Utah

If the child remains healthy and proves to indeed be cured, then the futures of children all over the world could possibly be changed.

Because of prenatal care and routine HIV testing of pregnant women in the United States, cases of HIV transmissions from mothers to newborns are rare — less than 200 cases a year.

"In Utah, we have several hundred healthy babies born to women with HIV who are growing up and doing extremely well," Pavia said. "It's been years since an infected woman has given birth to an infected baby."

That's why now the world's attention has turned to Mississippi and Dr. Hannah Gay. In 2010, Gay began immediate treatment on a newborn even before tests confirmed she was infected. Her HIV-infected mother had not received any prenatal care.

The baby was in treatment for a little over a year, but when Gay saw the baby a year after that, she learned the child had been taken off the drugs.

Did you know?
Babies born to HIV-infected mothers have a 15- to 45-percent chance of being infected without prenatal treatment. If the mother undergoes proper treatment during pregnancy, that number drops to less than 5 percent. -UNAIDS

"At that point, the mom admitted she had not been giving the medicine for the past several months," she said. "I fully expected the baby's viral load to have gone back up."

But the baby was no longer infected. Further testing failed to reveal signs of the virus.

Experts call it a "functional cure" and suspect the very early treatment left no time for the virus to hide in the baby's body. Pavia said what's different in this case is that drugs were used for possibly 15 months.

"We treat for four to six weeks to prevent infection," he said. "The baby would test negative and we'd stop. This baby tested positive and then, over time, began to test negative."

This case may inspire new resources for pediatric research — and perhaps someday a cure — for the world's HIV-infected children.

This will likely not affect HIV-infected adults, who generally do not know when they became infected. As a result, adult treatment typically does not begin until weeks or even years after the infection begins.


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