US doctors say they have succeeded in curing a baby infected with HIV. Virologists presented the case at a professional congress in Atlanta in the US state of Georgia. The HI virus had not completely disappeared from the body of the child. However, he said, the amount of viruses is now so small that the child's immune system can control them on its own. Supportive treatment was no longer needed. "You can consider this case that we've seen as close to a cure, if not a cure," Die Welt quotes Anthony Fauci, immunologist at the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH).
The HI virus had been detected in the child's mother only when she was already in labor. Doctors at the University of Mississippi began antiretroviral therapy on the infant just 30 hours after birth – even though an infection with HIV had not yet been confirmed. Early treatment stopped the disease before the virus could form dormant cells, The World quotes Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children's Center as saying. HI viruses can settle in the lymph nodes and remain inactive there for years as dormant cells. If treatment is discontinued because no active pathogens are detected in the blood, it is possible for the viruses to "wake up" again and spread.
This is why experts react skeptically to the sensational news from the U.S. "We have observed so many patients who have received highly active antiretroviral treatment – including children – and we have never seen a cure," says Bernhard Ruf, an AIDS expert at Klinikum St. Georg in Leipzig in an interview with the Suddeutsche Zeitung. He said it should not be believed that therapy can completely destroy the virus and that an infected person can eventually stop taking their medication. "For me, the state of knowledge is still: once HIV – always HIV, once treatment – lifelong treatment," Ruf says.
Norbert Vetter, an expert on immunodeficiency diseases at the Otto Wagner Hospital in Vienna, is not yet ready to talk about a cure. "The follow-up period is far too short, only the future can tell if we have really succeeded in affecting the viruses in such a way that they do not recur," the primary physician told the Austrian newspaper Der Standard.
At present, around 1.7 million people worldwide die of AIDS and its sequelae every year. New infections with HIV have dropped 19 percent in a decade. The number of AIDS deaths has fallen by 26 percent since 2005, partly because of better treatment methods. HIV-infected patients must undergo lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART). In the ideal case, the number of viruses in the body decreases to such an extent that HIV is practically no longer detectable. However, in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV infection rate is still high. Nearly 23 million people are infected with HIV in this area.