A baby girl who was born with HIV has been cured after very early treatment with standard drug therapy, US researchers have said, in a potentially groundbreaking case that could help eradicate HIV infection in its youngest victims.
Specialists made the announcement on Sunday at a major AIDS meeting in the US city of Atlanta.
"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.
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.
"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 child's story is different from the now famous case of Timothy Ray Brown, the so-called "Berlin patient," whose HIV infection was completely eradicated through an elaborate treatment for leukemia in 2007.
Instead of Brown's costly treatment, the Mississippi baby's case involved the use of a cocktail of widely available drugs already used to treat HIV infection in infants.
More testing needs to be done to see if the treatment would have the same effect on other children, but the results could change the way high-risk babies are treated and possibly lead to a cure for children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Persaud's team is now planning a study to try to prove that, with more aggressive treatment of other high-risk babies.
No one should stop anti-AIDS drugs as a result of this case, Fauci cautioned. But "it opens up a lot of doors'' to research if other children can be helped, he said. "It makes perfect sense what happened.''
Better than treatment is to prevent babies from being born with HIV in the first place.
About 300,000 children were born with HIV in 2011, mostly in poor countries where only about 60 percent of infected pregnant women get treatment that can keep them from passing the virus to their babies.
In the US, such births are very rare because HIV testing and treatment long have been part of prenatal care.
Dr. Rowena Johnston, vice president and director of research for the Foundation for AIDS Research, which helped fund the study, said the fact that the cure was achieved by antiretroviral therapy alone makes it "imperative that we learn more about a newborn's immune system, how it differs from an adult's and what factors made it possible for the child to be cured."