No cure yet, but science is making progress. By now you’ve seen the amazing news everywhere: Scientists have cured a Mississippi baby born with ...
By now you’ve seen the amazing news everywhere: Scientists have cured a Mississippi baby born with HIV.
According to research presented at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, the infant, born to an HIV-positive mother, was immediately treated with aggressive AIDS medications at birth. After 29 days of treatment, doctors couldn’t find any trace of HIV in the baby’s system.
Next came 18 months of giving the baby antiviral drugs, followed by a 10-month period of no treatment. Then, the docs performed follow-up tests to check for the virus. The results: Still no HIV in the baby’s blood. High-five, science!
So what does the breakthrough mean for the 33 million people worldwide who are currently infected with HIV? Unfortunately, not as much as you may have read.
“We do not have a cure for HIV,” says Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Instead, the baby is an extremely special case.
Since doctors treated the infant within 30 hours of birth, they were able to attack the disease at the earliest possible time, Dr. Fauci says. The docs suspected the mom was infected and likely wasn’t being treated, which significantly raised the odds of the baby being infected.
It takes way more time than that to diagnose HIV, but because the doctors acted fast, it may have led to the cure. The prompt administration of treatment prohibited vial reservoirs—dormant cells responsible for reigniting the infection in most HIV patients—from ever forming in the first place, according to researchers.
The case is cause for major excitement, but Dr. Fauci is quick to stress that this was only one patient, and that most efforts should still be focused on HIV prevention.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are infected with HIV, with 1 in 5 of those currently infected not having any idea that they’re carrying HIV. And of the 50,000 new infections in the U.S. each year, half of the instances involve people who don’t know they carry HIV infecting someone else.
Most men get the disease by having unprotected sex or coming in contact with infected blood, either via drug needles or blood transfusions. “So as long as you’re health-conscious and you practice safe sex, you’re at low risk for contracting HIV,” says Dr. Fauci. Still, if you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner since your last physical exam, ask your doc to get tested for HIV at your next checkup, he says.
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