By GILLIAN MOHNEY
A girl believed to be “cured” of HIV at birth now has detectable levels of the virus, health officials said today.
The unnamed girl, dubbed the “Mississippi baby” after being born to an HIV-positive mother in 2010 and quickly treated with an intense dose of antiretroviral medication, showed no signs of the virus for roughly four years, according to the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease. But a recent round of tests revealed detectable levels of HIV in her blood as well as antibodies to the virus and a decreased T-cell count -- all signs of the infection.
“Certainly, this is a disappointing turn of events for this young child, the medical staff involved in the child’s care, and the HIV/AIDS research community,” NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a statement. “Scientifically, this development reminds us that we still have much more to learn about the intricacies of HIV infection and where the virus hides in the body.”
The case of the Mississippi baby made headlines across the globe after being published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Hannah Gay, the University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatrician who treated the infant at birth, was listed as one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2013.
Gay's decision to give the newborn antiretroviral medication in the days before it was confirmed that she was in fact HIV-positive was controversial, since there was only a 25 percent chance that the girl would contract the virus from her mother.
The girl continued treatment for 18 months before her mother stopped taking her to her clinic appointments. Five months later, when she went back for a check-up, she surprised doctors with undetectable levels of the virus.
At first, Gay and her colleagues said the baby had been “functionally cured” of the virus, but later revised their language to “remission” to better convey that there was a chance the virus could rebound, they said at the time.
Although the girl's positive test results have been described as a disappointment, experts say her case still shows tremendous progress in treating the virus that causes AIDS.
“The fact that this child was able to remain off antiretroviral treatment for two years and maintain quiescent virus for that length of time is unprecedented,” Dr. Deborah Persaud, professor of infectious diseases at the John Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, said in a statement released by NIAID. “Typically, when treatment is stopped, HIV levels rebound within weeks, not years.”
Persaud is one of the two pediatric HIV experts involved in the ongoing analysis of the case.
“This virus is amazingly recalcitrant,” said Fauci. “It’s in reservoirs, except we don’t know every place in the body where the reservoir is going to be.”
NIAID and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development announced today that they would provide funding to analyze the unique case and will take the new findings into account during a new clinical trial.