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Child ‘cured’ of HIV still virus free, doctors say

HIV is an incredibly aggressive virus that eventually turns into AIDS. Scientists and doctors have been working together to create better ways to treat the virus, as current treatment involves a cocktail of drugs taken on a regular basis to keep the disease at bay. However, no cure has been found.

Doctors for a three-year-old Mississippi girl, however, are claiming that despite being born with the disease she is still disease-free, raising questions about the future of HIV treatment. Immunologist Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is part of the research team tracking the case, which is of huge interest to doctors searching for a cure. While doctors are hesitant to say that the child has been fully cured, the virus does not appear to be present in her system, according to recent tests, Web MD reports.

Doctors credit early treatment and potent antiretroviral drugs with curing the girl. She took HIV medications until she was 18 months old, but does not currently take any medication for the virus and no replicating HIV was found even in the most sensitive tests. While some expressed skepticism that the girl was actually infected with HIV at all, the new report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, makes it clear that she was infected in the womb, USA Today explains. The doctors treating her shy away from calling it a cure because so little is known about HIV. No previous cure exists, and they are unsure how long the disease will lie dormant before potentially coming back.

HIV-infected mothers in the United States mostly receive medication during pregnancy which decreases the chance that they could pass the disease on to their baby. However, in this case the mother was not even diagnosed with the disease until she was in labor. As a result, doctors considered the baby girl at very high risk of developing the disease and started her on aggressive medication only 30 hours after her birth. Doctors are unsure if it is the early treatment that helped the baby resist the disease or whether she has a natural genetic resistance to HIV, but either way the occurrence has opened their eyes to research directions for HIV treatment. Doctors are cautiously optimistic that with more testing, they might be able to spare children the pain of living with HIV.