A nine-year-old boy has become the third HIV infected child to go into remission in a huge scientific breakthrough.
The South African child was born with the disease but after a short course of treatment in early life, his immune system has now been healthy for more than eight years.
Researchers believe aggressive treatment soon after infection could enable long-term remission and therefore maybe form a cure for the deadly virus.
People who are HIV-positive must take daily antiretroviral drugs (ART) for the rest of their lives in order to control the infection’s progression.
However, the results from this clinical trial appear to have left the child with no need to take this medication, reports The Independent.
The study, which was sponsored by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), did not identify the child but it did state that they started taking the HIV drugs at two months old and stopped 40 weeks later.
Although scientists still found signs of the virus in a small number of immune system cells, none were capable of reproducing.
The study has stressed that this case is extremely rare but similar results have been seen in two other children, one in the U.S. and another in France.
Furthermore, at least a dozen adults have had remissions that have lasted for years after stopping their HIV medication.
Dr Michael Brady, medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said:
Early HIV therapy, in both children and adults, has been shown to reduce some of the damage to the immune system that HIV causes in the first few weeks and months of infection.
If we can understand this mechanism better, it will hopefully lead to novel treatment strategies and maybe one day, a cure.
Further research is needed but this case adds to the hope that one day, we may be able to prevent the need for life-long therapy with a short course of early HIV treatment in infancy.
For now, however, early diagnosis and life-long treatment for HIV remain our best options for fighting the epidemic.
— IAS 2017 (@IAS_conference) July 23, 2017
It is estimated that around 18 million people, which is half of all those living with HIV, take ART drugs, which can cause unpleasant side effects.
Hopefully this breakthrough will help find a cure that has been long desired.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.