When a baby born with HIV in Mississippi showed no trace of the virus after being given an aggressive regimen of drugs immediately after birth, doctors thought they’d stumbled on a potential cure. However, on Thursday her doctors made a devastating announcement: Last week they detected the virus in her blood during a routine visit. The girl, who is now four, is responding well to treatment, but Dr. Hannah Gay, who initially put her on a large dose of antiretroviral drugs, described the news as “a punch in the gut.”
In March, doctors announced that the virus had apparently been cleared from a 9-month-old girl in Long Beach, California, who was given the same treatment shortly after birth. While the Mississippi girl’s mother disappeared for several months and stopped giving her medication, the California girl could not be taken off the drugs for ethical reasons. AIDS researchers said at the time that there were reports of eight more children “cured” by the treatment in Canada and South Africa.
Despite the Mississippi girl’s relapse, her case has still provided valuable information, as it suggests early and aggressive treatment can reduce the size of the body’s reservoir of dormant virus. “We are still very much in the early discovery phase of trying to achieve a sustained virological remission and perhaps even a cure,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “There is much, much more to learn and we remain committed to doing so.”