Doctors at medical conference focused on AIDS treatment on Sunday announced that an infant born with the HIV has been "effectively cured" of the virus, offering hope that the treatment the child received could be replicated for other newborns who contract the disease from their mothers.
Calling it part of "medical history," researchers said the child is expected to live a normal life and would likely not be able to transmit the disease.
"This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants," said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who presented the findings.
"You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, who is familiar with the findings, told The Associated Press.
The baby girl was born in a rural hospital in the state of Mississippi and her mother had just tested positive for HIV infection.
A team of doctors at the University of Mississippi Medical Centre in Jackson then put the infant on a cocktail of three standard HIV-fighting drugs when she was just 30 hours old.
That fast action apparently knocked out the HIV in the baby's blood before it could form reservoirs in the body.
The new findings could be especially critical for AIDS-plagued African countries where many babies are born with the virus, researchers said.
And The Guardian adds:
The treatment would not work in older children or adults because the virus will have already infected their CD4 cells.
"Prompt antiviral therapy in newborns that begins within days of exposure may help infants clear the virus and achieve long-term remission without lifelong treatment by preventing such viral hideouts from forming in the first place," said Dr Persaud. "Our next step is to find out if this is a highly unusual response to very early antiretroviral therapy or something we can actually replicate in other high-risk newborns."
Children infected with HIV are given antiretroviral drugs with the intent to treat them for life, and Gay warned that anyone who takes the drugs must remain on them.
"It is far too early for anyone to try stopping effective therapy just to see if the virus comes back," she said.
Until scientists better understand how they cured the child, Gay emphasised that prevention is the most reliable way to stop babies contracting the virus from infected mothers. "Prevention really is the best cure, and we already have proven strategies that can prevent 98% of newborn infections by identifying and treating HIV-positive women," she said.