"The search for an HIV cure continues." That from a new study published in The Lancet that reports a second child believed to have been cured of HIV has seen a return of the virus. A baby boy, born HIV-positive in Milan in December 2009, was given antiretroviral treatment to fight the virus within 12 hours of birth, the Washington Post reports. The virus quickly became undetectable in his blood. HIV treatments can cause heart damage and other significant side effects, and so after reading about the apparent cure of a Mississippi baby born with HIV, the boy's mother asked doctors to stop the then-3-year-old's treatment. They agreed to do so. In the first week, the child's viral load was undetectable. In the second week, it jumped to 36,840 copies per mL.
While antiretrovirals can rid the bloodstream of the virus, they don't attack reservoirs of HIV in organs, which scientists are currently unable to test. Researchers had hoped the boy's early treatment would keep reservoirs from forming, but that now appears to have been a pipe dream. "Just a couple of hours after infection, the virus has already started seeding the organs and hides so therapy cannot eradicate HIV," study co-author Mario Clerici tells the BBC. "You can treat patients, but you cannot cure them. Right now it is impossible." The boy's renewed treatment has again brought the virus to undetectable levels. The Mississippi baby's HIV has also returned. (Meanwhile, researchers have traced the HIV pandemic to a 1920s African metropolis.)