There has been a setback in the scientific research of infectious diseases this week. The young child known as the “Mississippi baby” was found to be HIV positive.
The child was born to an HIV-positive mother who did not know her status beforehand and, therefore, did not take the antiretroviral drugs during her pregnancy that could have prevented transmission from mother to child.
At birth, the physician, Dr. Hannah B. Gay from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, decided not to follow standard protocols and immediately put the baby on the triple-drug cocktail normally reserved for HIV-positive adults. The child was under treatment for a year and a half, but then both the mother and child stopped going for treatment.
When the AIDS virus enters the body, it first invades the CD4 white blood cells and makes millions of copies of itself. Then it enters lymph cells and uses its RNA core to make DNA mirror images of itself that then integrate themselves into the DNA of the cell, creating the “reservoir.” Thus, it’s easy to “kill” an infected RNA cell floating around in the blood stream, but scientists have not found a way to destroy the hidden reservoirs in lymph cells around the body.
The mother and child were found, and for two years the child was negative. In a March 2013 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, it was announced that if the case could be replicated, then we were not too far from a cure for newly infected newborns and adults. It was thought that the aggressive medication cocktail in newly infected people was killing the virus before it could establish reservoirs in the body.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a leading AIDS expert who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times, “it’s obviously disappointing, but I was not surprised. I’ve been chasing these reservoirs for the last 25 years, and I know this virus has a really uncanny way of hiding itself.”
It is rare in wealthy countries, like the United States, for babies to be born with HIV because testing is so readily available and treatment, which can cost thousands of dollars, is federally funded. But two-thirds of newly infected women are Black, and, according to womenshealth.gov, Black women are less likely to get early prenatal care.
Thus, education and prevention still are the best tools to fighting the epidemic that has taken so many lives in African and African Diaspora communities. As for the Mississippi baby, doctors are still hopeful that their intervention can help the child. Even though their efforts did not cure her, under treatment her viral load has receded, and they hope she can still live a full life.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, http://Facebook.com/