12yrs without drugs: Teen sets record for longest HIV remission after early treatment

© Athit Perawongmetha
Medics have been inspired by the first case of a long-term HIV remission after discovering that a teenager, who received early treatment in her childhood, is still able to control the infection almost 12 years after stopping taking medication.

It is believed that girl was infected with HIV either at the end of her mother’s pregnancy or during childbirth itself.

For over a month after the birth, the toddler was given a drug designed to prevent the infection from taking hold of her system. However, as soon as the medicine was withdrawn the patient developed high levels of the human immunodeficiency virus.

The treatment was changed to a cocktail of four strong anti-HIV drugs, which the girl had been receiving for six years until her family withdrawn the treatment as well. Doctors at the time registered an “undetectable viral load” in her system.

The girl was recently re-discovered by French doctors, who were amazed to learn that 12 years later the teenager is still in remission. Moreover, the girl is not believed to be the one of the so-called “elite controllers,” who are naturally capable of controlling HIV infection, Dr Asier Saez-Cirion of the Institut Pasteur in Paris said.

The remission, the doctor believes, is explained by the early treatment by a combination of antiretroviral drugs shortly after the infection. The case proves the effectiveness of early treatment of HIV in both children and adults, Saez-Cirion stressed.

READ MORE: Cured? HIV baby 'in long-term remission' after early, powerful treatment

The French girl’s case was presented at the International AIDS Society conference, taking place in Vancouver on July 19-22. The teen is one of handful of patients, who managed to achieve remission with antiretroviral treatment (ART), which is aimed at keeping HIV from building up lasting reservoirs of the virus, capable of reigniting the infection.

READ MORE: HIV treatment ‘functionally cures’ 14 early diagnosed patients

In 2013 there were reports of a Mississippi baby, who contained the infection for over two years, following early and aggressive treatment. Another group of French patients known as the Visconti cohort also showed lasting remission of over seven years after a three-year-long treatment process, after which they began receiving within 10 weeks of becoming infected.

The latest case will be “inspiring” for people living with HIV and researchers working to defeat it, scientist Sharon Lewin told AFP, emphasizing it “shows that remission is possible, but rare.”

“We need to understand why it's not common, and which mechanisms are [involved] so that we can treat a larger population,” Lewin added.