The sooner an antiviral treatment is available for babies born with HIV, a US study suggests. Starting antiretroviral therapy within hours of birth can significantly reduce the HIV population of newborns and improve their immune response, researchers report in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The problem of HIV infection in infants is a global challenge facing humanity today. Studies estimate that 300-500 babies are infected with HIV every day in sub-Saharan Africa. Because of the weak immune system, babies become hiv-infected much faster than adults. While antiretroviral therapy is effective in curbing HIV infection in newborns, the World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends that infected newborns receive antiretroviral treatment within the first few weeks of life, these recommendations are difficult to follow in resource-poor and remote areas.
To understand how the timing of antiretroviral therapy affects newborns, researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the United States conducted a two-year study in Botswana. Botswana has the third highest RATE of HIV infection in the world, with about 24 percent of pregnant women with HIV in their bodies.
In the new study, 10 HIV-infected infants began antiretroviral therapy in the first few days of life, usually within a few hours, while the control group began antiretroviral therapy four months after birth on average. Over the next two years, the researchers sampled regularly and compared the results. They found that babies who received treatment very early had significantly fewer virus library cells in their bodies than those who received treatment later, and that their innate immune systems also showed more functional HIV-specific T-cell responses and antiviral responses.
The researchers say their study provides strong evidence that starting antiretroviral therapy early, even weeks earlier than current WHO guidelines, can be feasible and can bring real benefits to HIV babies.