People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) have a weakened immune system. As a result, they are more likely to develop certain cancers. This includes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Also known as AIDS-related lymphoma, this is a cancer of white blood cells. White blood cells fight infection.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a later stage of HIV infection. Fortunately, antiretroviral therapy has cut the rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in HIV-positive people significantly.
Now, one of them is testing positive for HIV again.
But the treatments at least held the virus at bay for a while -- and that could lead to changes in treatments for people recently infected.
Where HIV Hides
Usually, babies who might be HIV positive get medications to prevent the virus. Only when two tests come back positive are they switched to drugs that treat HIV. By this time, a baby could be 2 or more weeks old.
Sometimes doctors take a different approach, though. A baby from Mississippi received treatment medications just 30 hours after birth, and another baby from California was treated when she was only 4 hours old.
The baby in California is still HIV-negative almost a year after birth. The Mississippi baby tested HIV-free for more than 2 years, but is now HIV-positive again. Her mother had stopped giving her medication when the baby was 18-months old.
Scientists hoped giving strong treatment medications so soon after birth would get rid of HIV hiding in the body, or prevent it from forming.
But the news isn't completely unexpected, says Robert Siliciano, MD, PhD, professor of medicine in the infectious diseases department at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
He says it supports the theory that HIV cells stay in the body, just out of view in a hidden "reservoir."
"Curing HIV infection is going to require strategies to eliminate this reservoir," says Siliciano.
HIV/AIDS expert Anthony Fauci, MD, executive director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), calls the news disappointing "for the patient, the patient’s family, and the researchers." But he says what they learned will help HIV/AIDS research. "I certainly don’t think it’s an advance, but I don’t think it’s a setback,” he says.
People who have HIV should get treated as soon as they know. Now that may mean even earlier.