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HIV researchers are celebrating a new milestone, just two weeks after an announcement a baby born in Mississippi was effectively cured of the disease. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France say that an aggressive treatment cured 14 adults of the disease in a recently published medical report. 

The New Scientist reports that while lead researcher Asier Sáez-Cirión says the patients are mostly cured, a very weak strain of the HIV virus still lives inside them. “It’s not eradication, but they can clearly live without pills for a very long period of time,” said a Pasteur Institute spokesperson to New Scientist.

Using a complex method of antiviral drugs known as “combination antiretroviral therapy” (cART), the French patient group referred to as the “Visconti Cohort” received early diagnoses of HIV after being treated for other ailments. After taking the drugs for three years, some patients stopped treatment much like in the Mississippi case. Under most circumstances when patients stop anti-HIV pill treatment, the virus strengthens. However in the case of the Cohort, the disease is kept in check by the body’s immune system.

For the cure to work, doctors have to administer treatment quickly as possible in recently diagnosed HIV patients.  Essentially this means patients have to take special antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) between 35 days and 10 weeks after infection.

This practice was used in the cured baby case, although there are reports that the child was simply “exposed” and actually did not contract the HIV virus from her mother. While the radical treatment may not work for all patients, scientists are hopeful this opens a new pathway in HIV/AIDS research.

“There are three benefits to early treatment,” says Sáez-Cirión. “It 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.”

Photo: AFP