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HIV virus returns in child thought to have been 'functionally cured'

HIV virus returns in child thought to have been 'functionally cured'

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Last year, a child born with HIV was revealed to be "functionally cured" thanks to the administration of a liquid antiretroviral almost immediately following her birth. Unfortunately, the National Institutes of Health have just announced that the so-called "Mississippi Baby" is now showing detectable levels of the HIV virus some two years after she was taken off of the drug regimen with no detectible levels of the virus.

"Scientifically, this development reminds us that we still have much more to learn about the intricacies of HIV infection and where the virus hides in the body," said Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. During a routine clinical care visit earlier in July, the nearly four-year-old child was tested and the HIV virus was detected — further follow-up tests confirmed the findings. Since then, the child has gone back on the antiretroviral therapy with her virus levels already beginning to decrease.

"We still have much more to learn about the intricacies of HIV infection."

Despite the disappointment of the return of HIV to the child, doctors were quick to note that her case is still rather remarkable. "The fact that this child was able to remain off antiretroviral treatment for two years and maintain quiescent virus for that length of time is unprecedented," said Dr. Deborah Persaud from the John Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. "Typically, when treatment is stopped, HIV levels rebound within weeks, not years."

This latest development follows an update last October in which scientists announced that the child remained in remission. At the time, researcher Deborah Persaud wrote that it seemed the early and immediate treatment helped "achieve long-term remission without the need for lifelong treatment by preventing such viral hideouts from forming in the first place." However, it appears those findings will need to be revisited

The child will continue to be monitored and treated as researchers attempt to understand why the HIV virus disappeared for such an extended period of time without continued treatment, with the goal of extending that period of remission as long as possible. "The case of the Mississippi child indicates that early antiretroviral treatment in this HIV-infected infant did not completely eliminate the reservoir of HIV-infected cells that was established upon infection but may have considerably limited its development and averted the need for antiretroviral medication over a considerable period," said Dr. Fauci. "Now we must direct our attention to understanding why that is and determining whether the period of sustained remission in the absence of therapy can be prolonged even further."