An unidentified Mississippi two-year-old girl is the second human to display what doctors considered evidence of a “functional HIV cure.”
The girl’s story was detailed in a March 4 presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta by Dr. Deborah Persaud, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.
By that evening, word had already spread across news outlets and social media sources that a toddler had been “cured” of Human Immunodeficiency Virus HIV.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the child tested positive for HIV via two blood tests conducted during her first 48 hours of life in July 2010. A University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatrics HIV specialist, Hannah Gay, had already guessed what the test would show.
Gay knew that the baby’s mother, like hundreds of thousands of other Americans infected, was unaware of her status as a carrier until days before she gave birth.
Following the tests, Gay sprang into action, giving the baby a rigorous, intravenous antiviral cocktail of lamivudine, nevirapine, and zidovudine. Within the baby’s first 30 days of life, her HIV levels had fallen to extremely low levels.
“Three additional plasma viral load tests, [on] days of life seven, 12, and 20, were positive before reaching undetectable levels at age 29 days,” according to a research paper submitted by Persaud and others to the conference..
According to a statement released by the NIH, the toddler was infected while inside the womb because the mother had none of the prenatal care suggested for pregnant mothers or expecting women who carry virus in their system.
“Today, the child continues to thrive without antiretroviral therapy and has no identifiable levels of HIV in the body using standard assays,” the NIH in a statement.
Even more intriguing is the fact that, after receiving antiviral therapy for 18 months, the child had a 10-month break in her antiviral treatment “for reasons that are unclear.”
“It’s important to point out that this is a single case and a proof of concept,” Persaud said during her presentation, which was posted to Youtube by Saving Lives, an advocacy organization focused on spreading accurate information about the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than one percent of HI- positive pregnant women who follow the proper protocol transmit to their babies. Nonetheless, African American newborns are disproportionately affected, accounting for more than 15 infected babies out of every 100,000 born between 2007 and 2009. That number is less than three per 100,000 for Hispanic Americans and less than one for Caucasian newborns.
“At some point in their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 Black men and 1 in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection,” according to the CDC.
“The poverty rate is higher among African Americans—28 percent—than for any other race. The socioeconomic issues associated with poverty—including limited access to high-quality health care, housing, and HIV prevention education—directly and indirectly increase the risk for HIV infection, and affect the health of people living with and at risk for HIV infection,” the organization stated.
The Mississippi case has brought a significant amount of attention to the possibility of a second cured human, the first being an adult male who may have beaten the disease through a bone marrow transplant. But others worried that the new development could bring false hope, especially to youth who may already have a careless attitude towards prevention of transmission and protected sexual contact.
“I don’t even think it should have been advertised,” said Anna Fowlkes, 65, of Baltimore. “A lot of people will get false hope if there isn’t a cure and it will take time for them to know.”
A motivational speaker who regularly travels the country speaking about her own journey with HIV at universities, churches, and community events, Fowlkes said there are too many unknown factors and variables at this point for her to fall in line with the global excitement over the case.