HIV/Aids

23 March 2016

Giving babies antibodies promptly may eliminate HIV

Treating infant monkeys quickly with antibodies completely cleared the HIV virus after exposure, according to a new study.

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Treating baby monkeys within 24 hours of exposure to an HIV-like virus eliminated the virus, a new study says.

Virus completely cleared

The findings suggest that giving antibodies to human infants infected with HIV by their mothers might clear the Aids-causing virus from their bodies, according to the researchers.

"We knew going into this study that HIV infection spreads very quickly in infants during mother-to-child transmission," said study senior author Nancy Haigwood, director of the Oregon National Primate Research Centre at Oregon Health & Science University.

Read: Children affected by HIV/Aids

"So we knew that we had to treat the infant rhesus macaques quickly but we were not convinced an antibody treatment could completely clear the virus after exposure. We were proven wrong," she said in a university news release.

The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Rates of mother-to-child HIV transmission have fallen from 35 percent in 2000 to less than 3 percent, due to measures such as antiretroviral therapy, Caesarean delivery, and formula feeding rather than breast-feeding, the researchers said.

Read: Children with HIV at risk of drug resistance

However, about 200,000 children worldwide are infected with HIV each year, primarily in developing countries where there is less access to antiretroviral therapy, the researchers noted.

More research needed

"Other nonhuman primate studies with antiretroviral therapy suggest that treatment as early as three days after infection is too late to prevent establishment of the HIV reservoir," study co-author Jonah Sacha, an assistant scientist at the primate research centre, said in the news release.

"So using antibodies to clear the virus after infants have already been exposed could save thousands of lives," he added.

More research is needed, however, and it's important to note that results of animal studies often aren't replicated in human trials.

Read more: 

What is HIV/Aids? 

Symptoms of HIV/Aids

Causes of HIV/Aids

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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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