Great hopes in the field of HIV/AIDS research and prevention were dashed this week, when an infant thought to have been cured of the disease showed signs of remission. Just hours after being born four years ago to an HIV-positive mother, the so called “Mississippi baby” was started on a powerful three-drug regimen called triple therapy by doctors hoping to attack the illness early enough in the child’s life that they could stamp it out entirely. The girl continued to receive treatment for a year and a half, and later showed no signs of infection even after a long period of no treatment. Then she and her mother disappeared from the hospital program for ten months. Two weeks ago, however, tests on the now four-year-old girl showed that the virus had in fact resurfaced. She had appeared free of HIV as recently as March.
Antiretroviral drugs can eliminate the virus in the bloodstream, but HIV has hiding places (called “reservoirs”) in the intestines and the brain. If treatment stops, the virus can reemerge from these reservoirs and attack the body anew. Only one adult, Timothy Brown of San Francisco, is currently believed to have been cured of HIV–a result of a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a genetic mutation for HIV resistance. Another child, this one at a hospital in Los Angeles, was started on treatment right after birth in April 2013 and so far shows no signs of relapse. That child, however, has received ongoing treatment in the intervening time.