The world is still a long way from conquering the disease known as AIDS, but the possibility took one more step closer to reality Sunday with the announcement that, for the first time, someone has been cured of an HIV infection.
This medical first occurred with a child born in Mississippi in July 2010. According to reports from Reuters News Service, the toddler was born with an HIV infection and an aggressive therapy was launched within 30 hours of her delivery.
The announcement that she was cured of the infection was made by a team of Johns Hopkins University researchers, led by Dr. Deborah Persaud, at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections at Atlanta.
Those attending the conference say the success in this case underscores two points. First, that early diagnosis is important and that new, quicker methods need to be found for making that diagnosis, which usually takes up to six weeks.
Second, the approach with a newborn suspected of having HIV may need to change to a more aggressive one. Currently, high-risk babies are given lower doses of HIV-fighting drugs while doctors determine whether they are HIV-positive.
That change won’t come right away. Aggressive drug treatment for all newborns to HIV-positive mothers would result in babies who never had the disease being subjected to the toxic drug regimen.
And this is still one case. Doctors won’t know for some time whether similar action with newborns will generate the same results and how often similar results could be expected.
What will help in this area will be the development of methods to determine within the first couple of days of birth whether the newborn is infected.
HIV may turn out to be a condition that can be treated effectively and even reversed, as with this toddler, if detected early and treated aggressively. Only time — and research — will tell.
But it is reassuring that in this instance there was a happy ending for a little girl who will now have a chance at a normal childhood. And in that success, doctors and researchers have learned a bit more about this deadly illness and how to combat it. That is knowledge that can be built upon and, perhaps, one day researchers will find a cure for HIV.
For every great advancement, there is a first. We hope that sometime in the future that is how we’ll view this remarkable case.