(CNN) — A Mississippi baby scientists said was “functionally cured” of HIV now has detectable levels of the virus in her blood, 27 months after being taken off antiretroviral drugs, according to scientists involved with her case.
“Certainly, this is a disappointing turn of events for this young child, the medical staff involved in the child’s care, and the HIV/AIDS research community,” NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a statement. “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.”
Just hours after delivery, the Mississippi baby was given high doses of three antiretroviral drugs. More than three years later, doctors said the little girl had no evidence of the life-threatening disease in her blood, despite being off medication for nearly two years.
The child was born to a mother who received no prenatal care and was not diagnosed as HIV-positive herself until just before delivery, according to a case report published in November 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to treat the mom during the pregnancy as we would like to be able to do, to prevent transmission to the baby,” Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said at the time.
Doctors administered antiretroviral drugs 30 hours after the girl was born in hopes of controlling the virus. Within a couple of days, Gay confirmed the child was HIV-positive. She said the baby had probably been infected in the womb. The child remained on antiretroviral drugs for approximately 18 months. Her mother then stopped administering the drug for some reason, Gay said.
In March 2013, researchers announced that the girl was the first child to be “functionally cured” of HIV. A “functional cure” is when the presence of the virus is so small, lifelong treatment is not necessary and standard clinical tests cannot detect the virus in the blood.
Gay told CNN the timing of intervention, before the baby’s HIV diagnosis — may deserve “more emphasis than the particular drugs or number of drugs used.”
The researchers believed “the very early therapy is blocking the spread of HIV into viral reservoirs that hold the virus for a lifetime,” Persaud said.
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