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A Second Baby Thought Cured of HIV Relapsed When Taken Off Antiviral Drugs

Antiretroviral drugs can control, but not cure, HIV in children

As many as 240,000 children were infected with HIV last year. (Ron Nickel/*/Design Pics/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Early last year the medical community was awash in the news that a baby born with HIV had been cured. The baby, known in the media as the "Mississippi Baby," was put on powerful antiretroviral drugs starting the day after it was born. This treatment plan was enough to beat back the virus, and soon the baby was deemed HIV-free. That was the story as of March of last year. Yet a year and a half later, the Mississippi Baby's HIV returned.

The year and a half gap between the announcement of a cure and the discovery of the baby's relapse, however, was long enough for other doctors to make decisions based on the initial research.

In Italy, says Arielle Duhaime-Ross for the Verge, a mother and her doctor, inspired by the Mississippi baby, decided to take her baby off its antiretroviral medicine. The doctor thought the baby had been cured, like the Mississippi baby, says Duhaime-Ross. Yet within just two weeks the baby's HIV returned.

Before the Italian doctor took the baby off its medication, tests revealed that the baby had no virus in its body. The fact that the HIV returned so suddenly, then, suggests that HIV has a way of hiding, undetectable and waiting to repopulate the body.

When the Mississippi Baby was first thought cured, the doctors working with that baby had warned parents not take their own HIV-bearing children off their medication.

“Patients who are on successful therapy need to stay on their successful therapy until we figure out a whole lot more about what was going on with this child and what we can do for others in the future,” said one of the doctors to Reuters.

Without the use of anti-HIV drugs, the odds of an HIV-infected woman passing the virus to her newborn baby are about one in four. By following a strict regiment (Caesarian birth, no breastfeeding, heavy use of antiretroviral drugs in both mother and newborn), the odds of infection drop to around 2 percent.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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