Chicago - A French teenager born with HIV and treated until age 6 is still free from infection 12 years after stopping the treatments, suggesting the first case of long-term remission in a child infected from birth, researchers said on Monday.
The girl is one of a small group who have achieved remission from the virus, at least for a time, after early treatment with antiretroviral treatment (ART) aimed at keeping the virus from building up lasting reservoirs of the virus, which can reignite the infection. The French teenager's case is thought to be the longest of any on record so far in a child.
The girl's case, recently discovered by doctors in France, follows the 2013 report of a Mississippi baby who, after early and aggressive treatment for HIV, controlled the infection for a period 27 months without treatment before it came back.
Lasting remission has also been seen in a group of 14 French patients known as the Visconti cohort, who started treatment on antiretroviral drugs within 10 weeks of becoming infected, and stayed on the drugs for an average of three years.
After stopping treatment, the majority had levels of the virus so low they were undetectable for more than seven years.
In the case of the French teenager, the girl was infected with HIV either at the end of her mother's pregnancy or during childbirth. She was initially treated with a drug designed to prevent the infection from taking hold.
When it was withdrawn at six weeks, the child developed high levels of the virus. She was then put on a cocktail of four powerful anti-HIV drugs, and stayed on the treatment for six years.
Dr Asier Sáez-Cirión of the Institut Pasteur in Paris said the girl does not share the genetic factors typically associated with individuals known as "elite controllers" who are naturally able to control HIV infection.
He attributes her remission to receiving a combination of antiretroviral drugs soon after infection and said the study demonstrates the benefit of treatment soon after infection in both children and adults.
Dr Steven Deeks, a professor and HIV expert at the University of California, San Francisco, said such cases raise new questions about factors that allow individuals to control the virus and the benefits of early treatment.
The study was presented at the International AIDS Society conference in Vancouver.
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