A South African girl born with the AIDS virus has kept her infection suppressed for more than eight years after stopping anti-HIV medicines—more evidence that early treatment can occasionally cause a long remission that, if it lasts, would be a form of cure. Her case was revealed Monday at a Paris AIDS conference, where researchers also gave encouraging results from tests of shots every month or two instead of daily pills to treat HIV, the AP reports. "That's very promising," the US' top AIDS scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said of the prospects for long-acting drugs. Current treatments keep HIV under control but must be taken lifelong. Only one person is thought to be cured: the so-called Berlin patient, a man who had a bone marrow transplant in 2007 from a donor with natural resistance to HIV. But transplants are risky and impractical to try to cure the millions already infected.
So some researchers are aiming for the next best thing: long-term remission, when the immune system can control HIV without drugs even if signs of the virus remain. Aggressive treatment soon after infection might enable that in some cases, and the South African girl is the third child who achieved a long remission after that approach. She was in a study sponsored by Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which previously found early treatment helped babies survive. The unidentified girl started on HIV drugs when she was 2 months old and stopped 40 weeks later. Tests when she was 9 1/2 years old found signs of virus in a small number of immune system cells, but none capable of reproducing. The girl doesn't have a gene mutation that gives natural resistance to HIV infection, Fauci said, so her remission seems likely due to the early treatment.