As medical professionals around the world continue their efforts to fight the spread of HIV/Aids, a French teenager has apparently beaten the odds, becoming one of the first reported cases of a child in remission from HIV for an extended period – 12 years in her case.

Now 18, the teen was infected in utero and diagnosed HIV-positive just after her birth in 1996.

The BBC reports that the girl, who was started on anti-retrovirals at three months of age, was taken off the drugs at the age of six, and has been in remission ever since. Doctors have called her story a great stride in the fight against HIV, as it is an indication of the benefits of early treatment.

The viral levels in the girl’s bloodstream are too low to be measured, according to the BBC. Doctors have warned, however, that this might change in the future.

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“It’s likely that this girl has been in virological remission for so long because she received a combination of anti-retrovirals very soon after infection,” Dr Asier Saez-Cirion of the Institut Pasteur in Paris,” told the BBC.

“With this first, highly documented case of this young woman, we provide the proof of the concept that long-term remission is possible in children, as in adults. However, these cases are still very rare.”

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Professor Sharon Lewin of the University of Melbourne in Australia, tells the BBC that this case provides strong evidence of the importance of early treatment.

“This is an inspiring story for those of us working in this field, and for everyone living with HIV.

“Important though this case is, I strongly believe that to advance our efforts towards finding a cure for HIV, we need large prospective studies that can nail down who might be able to safely stop anti-viral therapy and keep the virus under control.

“A single case report is unable to do that,” she said.

“We need to identify a robust test to measure very low levels of virus or find a better way to predict this idea of post-treatment control.” She added that such tests would assist in moving clinical HIV treatment trials forward.

As part of the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, all countries should offer HIV-positive people early anti-retroviral therapy. The organisation’s researchers have found that if HIV treatment is offered early enough, it can not only extend the lives of HIV-postive people, but could also significantly reduce the spread of the virus.

Sources: BBC, WHO