Study Finds First Case of Teen in Long-Term Remission from HIV

By May Wilkerson 07/21/15

An 18-year-old teen stopped taking HIV medication 12 years ago.

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In a case that could revolutionize HIV treatment, a French teenager who was born HIV positive has reportedly been in remission for 12 years after ceasing her medication.

The 18-year-old woman is not considered “cured” but is “doing well” without treatment, according to a new study from the HIV, Inflammation and Persistence Unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. This is the first known case of a child who was born with HIV going into long-term remission.

“We can detect HIV in the cells, but what we cannot detect is viral replication in the plasma,” said lead researcher, Asier Saez-Cirion. “We don’t know yet why this girl was able to control the infection.”

The girl, who was infected either in utero or during childbirth, began anti-retroviral treatment shortly after infection and has been monitored throughout her life. “Most likely she has been in virological remission for so long because she received a combination of anti-retrovirals very soon after infection,” says the report.

According to researchers, the rare case adds to growing evidence that starting treatment immediately after infection is essential. The case “suggests that long-term remission after early treatment is possible in children infected by HIV,” says the report.

This case is the first of its kind under scientific observation, but it may not be unique. “I’m sure there will be others in the future,” said Saez-Cirion. He noted that there are still very few studies of children who were infected by HIV at birth and have been monitored throughout their lives.

Sharon Lewin, who co-chaired a symposium this week on finding a cure for HIV, said the case is “going to be inspiring for people living with HIV and working in the field.”

However, she pointed out that this is just a single case. “It’s also uncertain whether the teen would have controlled (her HIV infection) without any treatment,” she said, since scientists already know that 1% of HIV patients are able to overcome the virus naturally without any treatment.

Lewin cautioned against complacency in seeking a cure for HIV, given increasing evidence that the virus can be treated. “The reality is there are still two million new infections and 1.5 million deaths a year from HIV and 35 million living with HIV,” she said. “Whether we can really fund that, sustain and keep people in life-long care is unclear.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.