Ginnie Graham: So-called 'AIDS cure' misses big picture
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
3/06/13 at 11:21 AM
Correction: A Wednesday Tulsa World column incorrectly quoted Kathy Williams, executive director of Tulsa's HOPE (Health Outreach Prevention Education) services, regarding young people's general perception of AIDS. She said: "Young people are not seeing this as an epidemic." This story has been corrected.
The game isn't changing for people with HIV or AIDS, yet.
A Mississippi toddler - who received no prenatal care - was treated aggressively as a newborn for HIV and two years later had no traces of the virus.
The word "cure" has been loosely used to describe this development.
It's not really accurate, but findings could be significant.
This case is most promising for infants and provides further evidence treatment in the early stages may prevent life-long infection, said Dr. Michael Chang, pediatric infectious disease specialist, the Children's Hospital of Saint Francis.
The findings cannot be applied to adults yet, he said.
But, the case suggests theories that could lead to a cure, Chang said.
"While this case is very promising for future infants that are perinatally infected, it should be emphasized that regular prenatal care and screening expectant mothers for HIV could have prevented this situation in the first place," Chang siad.
"Regular testing and screening, as well as seeking care early after possible exposures, could potentially reduce the number of HIV infections in infants far more than possible curative measures."
Not a "cure": Tulsa advocates and service providers to people with HIV and AIDS are in a wait-and-see mode.
"We are so ready for a cure," said Sharon Thoele, executive director of Tulsa Cares, a center for AIDS resources, education and support. "This is not a cure, but from what I've read so far, it's a good step forward. But, we are cautiously optimistic."
Thoele said the involvement of Dr. Anthony Fauci in the Mississippi case adds weight to the medical outcomes.
"He's been with the movement from the beginning, so he brings credibility," she said.
Kathy Williams, executive director of Tulsa's HOPE (Health Outreach Prevention Education) services, also had a circumspect reaction.
"Obviously, it would be wonderful if that's the case," Williams said. "But, we always wait a little on news like this. It looks very promising, though."
An abnormal immune response: Details of the Mississippi case are sad but show a happy accidental discovery.
In 2010, a pregnant mother who received no prenatal services and did not know she was HIV positive delivered a baby girl with the virus.
Within 30 hours of birth, doctors began treating the baby with high doses of three antiretroviral drugs, which caused levels of the virus to go down.
Sadly, the mother disappeared with the 18-month-old, who abruptly stopped receiving treatment.
Doctors tracked her down months later and expected the HIV levels to be significantly higher. That would have been the normal response.
To their happy surprise, the virus could not be detected.
The girl has been without treatment for a year and is considered "functionally cured," meaning the virus cannot be detected in standard clinical tests and life-long treatment is not needed.
It is unknown what impact this will have for adults.
A forgotten fight: In Oklahoma, 3,094 people are living with the HIV virus and 5,585 people have AIDS, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
In addition, 35 children younger than 13 have the HIV virus and 40 children have been diagnosed with AIDS.
"Our most vulnerable population is among 13- to 29-year-olds," Williams said. "One person every 9 1/2 minutes gets infected with the HIV virus in the U.S."
When adding up the number of HIV-infected Oklahomans in those younger ages, it outpaces the older groups.
"Awareness is not in the news like it used to be 15 to 20 years ago," Williams said. "Young people are not seeing this as an epidemic. But people are still dying of AIDS and continue to being infected with HIV."
Young people have grown up hearing about HIV medications but rarely see the downsides, such as high costs and side effects.
They didn't grow up seeing the photos of people dying from AIDS.
They don't understand there is still no cure.
"They think it's over, but it's definitely not over," said Thoele. "This latest finding is uplifting. It means we are still looking at this, still researching this and still checking everything out."
Original Print Headline: So-called 'AIDS cure' misses the big picture