Sean Morrow
March 04, 2013 11:02 am

This is some pretty great news, the New York Times reports “Doctors announced on Sunday that a baby had been cured of an H.I.V. infection for the first time.”

Whoa!

Usually, in developed countries, expectant mothers are tested for HIV so that preventative measures can be taken against infecting the newborn. In this case “The mother arrived at a rural hospital in the fall of 2010 already in labor and gave birth prematurely. She had not seen a doctor during the pregnancy and did not know she had H.I.V.” When the risk of infection was discovered, the baby was sent to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where tests showed that the newborn had “a level of virus at about 20,000 copies per milliliter… There were five positive tests in the baby’s first month of life — four for viral RNA and one for DNA”

Doctors treated the 30 hour old “aggressively with antiretroviral drugs… something that is not usually done.”

And it worked!

When the mother and child returned five months later, Dr. Gay expected to see high viral loads in the baby. But the tests were negative.

Suspecting a laboratory error, she ordered more tests. “To my greater surprise, all of these came back negative,” Dr. Gay said.

Wow. If this all pans out, then the Mississippi baby will be the second well-documented case of a cure ever, after “Timothy Brown…a middle-aged man with leukemia who received a bone-marrow transplant from a donor genetically resistant to H.I.V. infection.”

In the United States, infected infants are rare due to preventative measures, numbering in the low hundreds every year, but unfortunately “the United Nations estimates that 330,000 babies were newly infected in 2011, the most recent year for which there is data, and that more than three million children globally are living with H.I.V.”

The implication of the ability to nip H.I.V. in the bud in infants has the potential to change the lives of millions of people in the coming years. Doctors say that “while the bone marrow transplant that cured Mr. Brown is an arduous and life-threatening procedure, the Mississippi treatment is not and could become a new standard of care.”

With regard to implementing the cure in less developed countries, where H.I.V. is a more serious problem, the New York Times points out the obvious, “While it might be difficult for some poorer countries to do, treating for only a year or two would be cost effective.” While it’s easy to treat one newborn in Mississippi, can the same be said for hundreds of thousands of newborns in Africa?

This is a worthless and obvious statement, but H.I.V. and AIDS are scary and terrible things, and any step toward lessening the suffering they unleash on humanity is good, but with the current state of the pharmaceutical industry (as close to a comic book super-villain that the real world will ever have,) will a cure ever be proliferated?

Image via Shutterstock 

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