A young girl who appeared to be cured of HIV after intensive drug therapy does in fact have the virus, doctors announced on Thursday.
The four-year-old girl from Mississippi was born prematurely to a mother with HIV, and began taking antiretroviral drugs just 30 hours after birth. After 18 months of taking the drugs, the girl's mother stopped taking her to the doctor and giving her the pills. Five months later, she was examined again and doctors found her blood did not show any detectable levels of HIV or HIV-specific antibodies.
Her story was shared at an AIDS conference in 2013, and was the foundation for an upcoming clinical trial to test if babies born to infected mothers can discontinue taking drugs after they show signs of going into remission. The discovery earlier this month of the virus in her blood hit doctors hard.
"It felt very much like a punch to the gut," Dr. Hannah Gay, pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said during a news conference.
The girl was given antiretroviral drugs as soon as the virus was found in her blood, and is responding well. With this discovery, some are now wondering if it is ethical to continue with the planned clinical trial. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, believes it will not cross any lines. "I think what would be questionable is if people on their own, without a clinical study, decided they were going to all of a sudden empirically stop therapy just to see if things were OK with the baby," he told the Los Angeles Times. "That's a different story than doing it under a very carefully controlled and monitored clinical trial."