In an extremely rare event, a woman, who prefers to stay anonymous, from the Esperanza province in Argentina has managed to clear the HIV virus from her body. First diagnosed in 2013, the woman recently underwent multiple viral load tests but showed no detectable signs of the virus or symptoms of the disease, Science Alert reported.
An HIV infection targets the immune system in the body, and if left untreated, it can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Since the latter has no cure, anti-virals are used to treat the infection during its early stages and slow down the progression of the disease. Researchers aiming to cure HIV try to bring the viral load to levels where the virus does not replicate even without treatment. This is called a functional cure. The other way, although difficult to achieve, is the complete elimination of the virus or its replicating components in the body. Called sterilizing cure, is what the Argentine patient has achieved.
There have been other notable cases of such sterilizing cures earlier as well. Known around the world as 'Berlin patient' and 'London Patient', these HIV-positive individuals received stem cell transplants that helped their bodies fight the virus and eliminate them completely. The Esperanza patient, though, did not receive any stem cell transplants and her cure appears to have come from anti-virals alone.
The patient was first diagnosed with HIV, way back in 2013. It was only when she was pregnant between 2019-2020 that she took anti-viral drugs. After delivering a healthy and HIV-negative baby, the woman stopped her therapy and appeared to have eliminated the virus completely from her body.
Such individuals where HIV is not detected without any specific treatment are referred to as 'elite controllers' or 'natural suppressors,' Science Alert reported. While the virus might not be detectable by commercially available Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, specific laboratory tests used for research purposes usually find traces of the virus or its components in a patient's blood sample. In the case of 'Esperanza patient', even detection was not possible, the researchers told Science Alert.
The patient managed to completely eliminate the virus from her body during the infection's natural course. Last year, we reported a Brazilian man who was cured of HIV after intensive medication. But the Argentine woman's accomplishment is at a different level altogether. This has only been reported once before, in a Californian patient, Loreen Willenberg, Science Alert reported.
The scientific process, however, does not allow this to be considered as proof that HIV can be cured naturally. This finding is empirical or based on observation and does not allow for it to be tested and verified. So, while the Argentine woman has surprised the scientific community, she still isn't 'living proof' that HIV can be cured naturally.
The finding was published in Annals of Internal Medicine.