In October of last year, the medical community across the world tentatively celebrated the case of a young girl who might have represented a cure of the AIDS virus. Having been born HIV positive, she'd been given an aggressive treatment and gone into remission — for so long, in fact, that some had even whispered 'functional cure.' Sadly, on Thursday, the three-year-old Mississippi girl who'd been "cured" tested positive for HIV.
Until Thursday, the girl had gone 27 months without treatment, showing no signs of the virus. Although it's now fairly uncommon for children to be born with HIV thanks to prenatal care (in fact, the rate has dropped 50 percent in recent years), it was only discovered that this girl’s mom had HIV while she was in labor. So just 30 hours after she was born, the child got a dose of three powerful antiretroviral (ATV) drugs — an unusually aggressive course of action to take before tests have confirmed an infection.“When this baby was born, knowing that the baby was at
higher risk, I started three drugs,” said Dr. Hannah Gay, the doctor who treated the child.
Generally, what AIDS medications do is suppress the virus at low levels, they don't get rid of it entirely. But in this case, after 29 days, the virus had virtually disappeared. Though the girl kept getting treatment until she was 18 months old, this was followed by five months without treatment — somehow, even then, the virus was still undetectable. There was hope, suddenly — albeit hesitant.
“We want to be very cautious here,” said University of Massachusetts AIDS expert Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, who was involved in the baby’s care, back in March. ”We’re calling it remission because we’d like to observe the child for a longer time and be absolutely sure there’s no rebound."
Now, that caution has been proven merited. The nearly-four-year-old girl tested positive for the virus, in spite of looking healthy. "It was a punch in the gut to see those test
results last week," Dr. Gay said in a statement, according to the Wall Street Journal. "I know intellectually
the child is going to be fine, but with a lifetime of medicines ahead,
it's more than just a little disappointing."
The results are also disappointing for the 250,000 HIV-positive children born each year, as well as for the millions of people become infected with the virus each year (according to the New York Times, 2.3 million people contracted HIV in 2012.) As for the girl herself? She may not be cured, but she's doing alright — she's being treated at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, and the levels of HIV in her blood are going down, thanks to drug treatment.