Scientists say a baby born with the AIDS virus appears to have been cured thanks to faster and stronger treatment than is usual for newborns.
Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins' Children Center
HIV infected toddler helped by Childkind (from 11 Alive files)
Dr. Hannah Gay of the University of Mississippi
Karl Lehman, President and CEO of Atlanta's Childkind
ATLANTA -- "It's wonderful, absolutely wonderful," Karl Lehman told 11 Alive on Monday.
That was his reaction to learning that scientists said a baby born with the AIDS virus appears to have been cured thanks to faster and stronger treatment than is usual for newborns.
Lehman runs Childkind, an Atlanta organization that helps children with special health needs.
It was founded in 1988 to help HIV infected children, but has since branched out to help those with other illnesses.
"This type of treatment can greatly reduce the numbers of children who will carry the HIV virus," Lehman hopes.
Scientists at a major AIDS meeting in Atlanta say the Mississippi child is now 2½ and has been off HIV drugs for about a year with no signs of infection.
If the child remains healthy, it would mark only the world's second reported cure. Specialists say it offers promising clues for more research to fight pediatric HIV.
"Standardly in the U.S., we don't really give treatment as early as this child received therapy. We wait to know whether the child is infected or not, and that can take sometimes up to four to six weeks to be able to identify an infected child," said Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Medical Center. "So this case is distinct because the therapy was started so early."
Sunday's announcement in Atlanta suggests giving high-dose treatment right after birth wiped out HIV before it could form hideouts in the body that usually reinfect anyone who stops medication.
The baby was born to an HIV-infected mother who stopped giving her child medication at 15 months. She went back to the hospital around the child's second birthday.
"The mom admitted that she had not been giving the medicine for the past several months, and I fully expected the baby's viral load to have gone back up," said Dr. Hannah Gay, Pediatric HIV Specialist with the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "But when we drew the test, we got back still an undetectable viral load."
While the treatment will apparently not help older infected children, groups like Atlanta's Childkind hope it will mean fewer new infants needing help.
They feel that's especially important since after years of declining, the number of HIV infected children they're helping has begun to grow again.
"In the last two or three years we've seen the numbers of referrals, particularly in our foster care program, of HIV positive children increasing," Lehman said.