That celebratory "game-changer" we experienced last week—the news that a 2 1/2-year-old Mississippi girl born with HIV had been cured—might have been a bit premature. It seems that gist of the case was reported on in the media before it was actually presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.
What happened is that a baby girl was born to an HIV-positive mother. Typically, doctors will monitor such a pregnancy and treat the fetus in utero, thus babies in the U.S. these days are almost always born HIV-free. In the case of the Mississippi baby, it was unknown that the mother was HIV-positive until she was in labor, thus the infant was exposed to HIV and she had HIV in her blood. But according to Mark Siedner from the Wall Street Journal, this isn't exactly indicative of the huge breakthrough we'd initially hoped for because "we will likely never know if those cells were from the child or maternal cells that had been transmitted during pregnancy or birth."
Was the baby infected with HIV and, thus, cured?
To many of the researchers at the conference, the answer is "no." It seems more likely that her treatment prevented her, after exposure to HIV, from being infected. The reason we give medicines to both pregnant women and their newborns is precisely to prevent HIV exposures in children from becoming established infections, an intervention that can decrease the rate of transmission from about 30% to less than 1% in optimal conditions.
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