“We don’t know if those tests are false positives or true positives. We are doing more studies to try to figure that out,” Luzuriaga said.
Numerous studies have tried to cure HIV-infected people by starting treatment as soon as a diagnosis is made. But that is almost always weeks after a person has been infected. By then, the virus has spread throughout the body, infected millions of cells and stitched its genetic message into the chromosomes. Treatment of such acute cases hasn’t produced cures.
Fauci, however, said it is possible that some babies started on triple therapy in recent years might also be cured. “Treatment even at six weeks might be able to cure some kids,” he speculated. “We need to go back and look to see if there is any residual virus in them. It may be that we have inadvertently cured them.”
More important, he said, is to find a way to test a strategy of treatment at birth in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, where mother-to-child transmission is a huge problem.
There is one other situation where immediate treatment with antiretroviral drugs may have cured incipient infections.
When health-care workers are stuck with needles containing blood from someone with AIDS, many choose to start taking the medicines within hours of the accident. They have a lower rate of infection than people who do not take the medicines — a finding that suggests that an infection that would have occurred was aborted.
In recent years, there has been a huge push to reduce mother-to-child transmission by testing all pregnant women and putting them on antiretroviral drugs — either for the duration of pregnancy or for life — if they are positive.
In 2011, 330,000 children were born with HIV infection or acquired it during breast-feeding, according to the United Nations program UNAIDS. That was 24 percent fewer such infections than in 2009.
Details of the case will be presented Monday at the 20th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. A general description was given to reporters Sunday at a news conference before the meeting began.