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Baby born with AIDS virus apparently cured

| Sunday, March 3, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A baby born with the AIDS virus appears to have been cured, scientists announced on Sunday, describing the case of a child from Mississippi who's 2½ and has been off medication for about a year with no signs of infection.

There's no guarantee the child will remain healthy, though sophisticated testing uncovered only traces of the virus' genetic material lingering. If so, it would mark only the world's second reported cure.

Specialists said the announcement on Sunday, at a meeting on AIDS in Atlanta, offers promising clues for efforts to eliminate HIV in children, especially in AIDS-plagued African countries where many babies are born with the virus.

“You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, who is familiar with the findings.

A doctor gave the baby faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth. That was before tests confirmed the infant was infected and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn't diagnosed until she was in labor.

“I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk and deserved our best shot,” said Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi.

That fast action apparently knocked out HIV in the baby's blood before it could form hideouts in the body. Those so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly re-infect anyone who stops medication, said Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children's Center. She led the investigation that deemed the child “functionally cured,” meaning in long-term remission even if all traces of the virus haven't been completely eradicated.

Next, Persaud's team is planning a study to try to prove that, with more aggressive treatment of other high-risk babies, “maybe we'll be able to block this reservoir seeding,” she said.

No one should stop anti-AIDS drugs as a result of this case, Fauci cautioned.

But “it opens up a lot of doors” to research if other children can be helped, he said. “It makes perfect sense what happened.”

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