A report coming out of France’s Pasteur Institute reveals that 14 people were “functionally cured” of HIV through rapid treatment after early diagnosis.
The institute looked at a group of 70 people who started antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) five to ten 10 weeks after becoming infected but stopped treatment completely after an average of three years. Most saw their T-cell count drop, but 14 patients—four women and ten men, known as the “Visconti cohort”—remained HIV-free.
All 70 stopped taking their ARVs of their own accord, not as part of any research experiment. The Visconti cohort were not naturally immune to HIV—in fact they received treatment so quickly because their symptoms were so severe and immediate.
Asier Sáez-Cirión of the Institute’s retroviral-infections unit says the “cured” patients still have traces of HIV in their blood, but at such low levels that their bodies can keep the virus in check without treatment. “It’s not eradication, but they can clearly live without pills for a very long period of time.”
Sáez-Cirión explains that early treatment “limits the reservoir of HIV that can persist, limits the diversity of the virus and preserves the immune response to the virus that keeps it in check.”