A nine-year-old child in South Africa is ‘virtually cured of HIV’, according to doctors.
The child, whose identity is being protected, was given a burst of treatment shortly after they were born.
They have spent nearly their entire life without symptoms or signs of active virus.
Experts say this case could one day lead to a cure for HIV.
The child had caught the infection from their mother in 2007, and had very high levels of HIV in their blood.
As part of a clinical trial, the child at nine weeks old was given early antiretroviral therapy.
Levels of the virus became undetectable, and treatment was stopped after 40 weeks.
Dr Avy Violari, the head of paediatric research at the Perinal HIV Research Unit in Johannesburg, said: ‘We don’t believe that antiretroviral therapy alone can lead to remission.
‘We don’t really know what’s the reason why this child has achieved remission – we believe it’s either genetic or immune system-related.’
It is believed that while some people are better at dealing with an HIV infection, the child’s body has done something that has never been done before.
And replicating it as a new form of therapy, as an antibody or vaccine, has the potential to help other patients.
This case could finally lead to a cure for HIV
Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘This case report is really interesting in the sense that it adds to our knowledge of what might be achievable with very early treatment in infants.
‘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.’