The media is only perpetuating ignorance and inciting false hope by blowing up with articles and stories regarding the first person being “cured” of HIV.
Here are the facts:
- The person in question is a toddler. A baby girl. She was infected by her HIV-positive mother, who didn’t receive the proper, recommended care for her condition during gestation.
- She wasn’t cured. She was functionally cured. And that, in itself, was a medical fluke — not a marvel. More on that below.
- She was administered a highly concentrated cocktail of three antiretroviral drugs within her first 30 hours outside of the womb. Before the HIV lab test results even came back.
- Two tests were done an hour apart from each other shortly after birth, and the baby was positive, but with a fairly low reading of 20,000 copies per milliliter (c/mL) of HIV RNA. But the fact that she tested positive so early in life was indicative of the time of her infection: likely to have been in the womb, rather than during delivery.
- Her atypical treatment regimen was prescribed in an effort to suppress the virus before it progressed to tissue/cells colloquially referred to as viral reservoirs…anatomical areas where latent viral infections are at the peak of their persistence.
- 2.5 years later, the anonymous baby girl tested HIV “negative” — due the fact that her viral traces are so low, they can’t be picked up by standard clinical tests. She’s been off treatment for over eight months. This is the definition of a functional cure.
- Researchers as well as the virologist who treated her made it a point to stress that her current state is largely attributed to the intensity and the timing of the treatment — in absence of prophylactic measures.
- This is the second reported case of an HIV “cure.” In 2007 a man famously known as the “Berlin patient,” Mr. Timothy Brown garnered the media’s attention. He was battling both Leukemia and HIV, when he received a bone marrow transplant to treat the latter. The bone marrow he received was from a person with an HIV-resistent mutation, one only found in 1% of the caucasian population. And thus, he is now HIV-free.
What does this all mean? There still isn’t a medical cure for HIV. And that girl, as well as Mr. Brown are no more than fortunate and blessed.