Health officials say a South African child who has had HIV since infancy has virtually been “cured” of the disease.
The child, whose name and gender are not being released to the public, reportedly began antiretroviral therapy treatment shortly after birth.
Although the child has been infected with the virus for nearly 9 years, they now show no signs of the disease.
While most patients have to take medication daily to combat the virus, the child in question no longer needs medication to survive, according to health officials.
At this time, doctors truly do not know why this particular child has been essentially cured of HIV, but they do not believe the antiretroviral therapy can be the sole reason behind the child’s health.
More than anything, health experts hope that by finding out why this child is still alive, they can inch closer to finding a cure.
“We don't believe that antiretroviral therapy alone can lead to remission,” Dr. Avy Violari, the head of pediatric research at the Perinal HIV Research Unit in Johannesburg, told the BBC. “We don't really know what's the reason why this child has achieved remission – we believe it's either genetic or immune system-related.”
This is reportedly the third case that involves a patient with HIV showing few signs of the virus without medication.
According to The Daily Mail, there is also a French child who has gone 11 years without medication and has remained relatively healthy.
In the South African child’s case, they reportedly contracted extremely high levels of HIV from their mother.
Nine weeks after the baby was born, they were placed on a treatment program.
After 40 weeks of treatment, the baby reportedly had nearly undetectable traces of HIV in their blood.
Doctors believe that those infected with HIV can sometimes be nearly cured if they are treated as babies.
Dr. Michael Brady, medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said this baby’s case backs up the theory that HIV is easier to treat in infants.
“Early HIV therapy, in both children and adults, has been shown to reduce some of the damage to the immune system that HIV causes in the first few weeks and months of infection,” Brady said. “If we can understand this mechanism better it will hopefully lead to novel treatment strategies and, maybe one day, a cure.”
“Further research is needed, but this case adds to the hope that, one day, we may be able to prevent the need for life-long therapy with a short course of early HIV treatment in infancy,” he added. “For now, however, early diagnosis and life-long treatment for HIV remain our best options for fighting the epidemic.”