Researchers remain hopeful that they’re heading in the right direction to finding a cure for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Right now, it’s still out of reach. But the unusual cases of three people may hold clues.
Perhaps the best known is the “Berlin patient,” Timothy Ray Brown. He’s the first and only person ever to be cured of HIV. Brown found out in 2006 that he had acute myeloid leukemia. He already knew he had HIV and had been taking medicine for it for years.
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HIV, AIDS, and Mycobacterium Avium Complex
Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) is a group of bacteria that are related to tuberculosis. These germs are very common in food, water, and soil. Almost everyone has them in their bodies. If you have a strong immune system, they don’t cause problems. But they can cause serious illness in people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). With the right combination of medications, however, you can prevent or treat MAC. In some cases, you may need lifelong therapy.
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After chemotherapy didn’t help his leukemia, Brown went to Berlin, where he got two bone marrow transplants from an HIV-resistant donor. Other HIV-positive leukemia patients who got similar treatments haven’t been free of HIV. Experts still don’t know why Brown became free of HIV. He also beat his leukemia.
Clues From Babies
Usually, infants who might be HIV-positive get medications to prevent the virus. Only after two tests come back showing HIV infection do doctors switch to drugs that treat HIV. By this time, a baby could be at least 2 weeks old.
Sometimes doctors take a different approach. A baby from California got the treatment medicines, called antiretroviral therapy (ART), when she was only 4 hours old. At 9 months, back in 2014, she was still HIV-negative — and was still getting ART.
Another case also made headlines. Doctors gave a baby from Mississippi treatment medications just 30 hours after she was born to a woman who had HIV. The little girl tested HIV-free for more than 2 years, and some people said she was “in remission” at the time, which was in 2013.
But in 2014, at age 4, HIV turned up in the Mississippi baby’s blood. Her mother had stopped giving her ART when she was 18 months old, against medical advice.
The “Mississippi baby, “whose name hasn’t been made public, went back on ART. She finished kindergarten in June 2016 and is “doing great,” Hannah Gay, MD, who treated the baby at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, says in a news release.
Gay says she’s making a scrapbook for the little girl so she can one day know more about the role she played in helping experts better understand HIV.
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