New Hope for Babies Born with HIV

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Approximately 1,000 babies are born with HIV every day. [1 Most of these births take place in developing countries - in the United States, the number of babies born with HIV has decreased by 90 percent since the 1990’s according the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [2] Transmission between mother and child is the most common way a baby contracts the virus and this can happen during pregnancy or after, during breastfeeding.

    In the U.S. pregnant mothers are routinely screened for HIV and, when detected, antiretroviral drugs are used to prevent the fetus from contracting the virus. But in developing countries, testing may not be routinely done and may not be as accurate. Additionally, mothers may not received the medications needed to help prevent transmitting HIV to their child. According to CNN, only 3 percent of women who had HIV received the medication in North Africa and the MIddle East and only 23 percent did in West and Central Africa.

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    When treating babies exposed to HIV, two drugs are usually given for prevention. If HIV is present, three drugs would be used to treat the infection.

    Toddler in Mississippi Functionally Cured

    An unidentified woman in Mississippi, who had previously received a bone marrow transplant, did not receive any prenatal care and tested positive for HIV infection shortly before the birth of her child. Dr. Hannah Gay, an associate professor of pediatrics and the University of Mississippi Medical Center decided to treat the child with three drugs within 30 hours of birth without waiting for lab results that would have said whether HIV infection was present. Treatment was completely stopped at 18 months.

    When tested at 24 and 26 months, the toddler showed only trace amounts of HIV, indicating being “functionally” cured.  A functional cure, according to CNN is “when the presence of the virus is so small, lifelong treatment is not necessary and standard clinical tests cannot detect the virus in the blood.” [3]

    While treatment with the antiretroviral medications was important, Dr. Gay believes that the timing of the drugs was paramount. This, however, is just one case and will need to be replicated to find out if it can help other babies born with, or exposed to, HIV or if it is an anomaly. Dr. Deborah Persaud, who presented the results at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, believes there is a reason to be optimistic that aggressive treatment, immediately after birth, can cure HIV and make a huge difference around the world in the fight against AIDS.


    [2] “HIV Among Pregnant Women, Infants and Children in the United States,” Modified 2013, February 12, Staff Writer, National Center for HIV/AIDS. Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    [3] “HIV ‘Cure’ in Toddler Offers ‘Global Hope’’ 2013, March 5, Jen Christensen, CNN
    “Is There Hope for HIV Eradication?” 2013, March 4, Deborah Persaud et al, 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections

  • [1] “Results,” 2012, World AIDS Day Report, UNAIDS

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Published On: March 05, 2013