An 18-year-old French woman born HIV positive has her infection under control despite stopping treatment more than a decade ago.
Doctors think the woman, who lives in the Paris area and has not been identified, may have a natural resistance to the virus which hasn't yet been discovered.
Although several adults have stopped HIV antiretroviral (ARV) medication and remained in remission, French doctors think that this is the first long-lasting case that started in childhood.
'Powerful benefit of starting treatment as soon as possible'
Her story was told at an International AIDS Society conference in Vancouver on Monday, rekindling hopes that early, aggressive treatment can limit how strongly the virus takes hold.
"This case is clearly additional evidence of the powerful benefit of starting treatment as soon as possible," said Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, a scientist at the Pasteur Institute and a co-discoverer of HIV.
Barre-Sinoussi added that she didn't know if the remission would last. The Nobel laureate recently spoke to DW about her work.
A similar case was reported in Mississippi a few years ago, where a young girl's HIV was kept in check for more than two years without treatment. But the virus rebounded, dashing hopes that she may have been cured.
In the French teen's case, her mother did not have her own HIV under control during her pregnancy, and doctors think her daughter was infected before or during birth.
The baby was given the HIV drug Zidovudine (AZT) before being put on a more powerful four-drug combination until she was nearly 6, when doctors lost contact with her.
A year later, her month said she had stopped giving the girl HIV drugs. Yet the virus was not found in her blood, so they decided not to resume treatment.
Except for one brief rise in her viral load when she was 11, the virus in her blood has remained below a detection threshold ever since.
Doctors say they can still find some at extremely low levels when they look with very sensitive tests.
Early treatment for all
On Monday, the International AIDS Society (IAS) conference issued a consensus statement calling for early access to HIV treatment worldwide after several studies showed that immediate treatment more than doubles a patient's prospects of staying healthy and living a long life.
One recent clinical trial was stopped early because of the benefits of starting treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis were clear. There was a noticeable drop in a variety of serious health issues linked to the virus.
Until now, some doctors were concerned that early antiretroviral therapy may increase the risk of cardiovascular and renal disease.
There have been calls for more widespread testing of HIV worldwide amid concerns that as many as a quarter of people with the virus don't realize they're infected.
Despite daily treatment that can make the virus undetectable in the blood after a few months, more than 2 million new HIV diagnoses are made each year and 1.5 million people die from HIV-AIDS.
mm/cmk (AFP, AP)