A nine-year old girl in South Africa born HIV positive has gone into remission without any antiretroviral drugs after receiving an aggressive treatment in the first few months of her life. She is the third patient in the world to receive the treatment, and her case shows the effectiveness of early HIV treatment as a possible functional cure for the infection.

The young girl was given the aggressive HIV treatment when she was only two months old, and continued receiving it for 40 months before stopping. Now, eight years after she began the treatment, the young girl has HIV levels on par with individuals who take daily antiretroviral drugs, despite not taking any further medication, The Independent reported. The child is part of a study sponsored by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and although the child’s case is rare, scientists believe it suggests that very early intervention may be a way to theoretically “cure” an individual of the virus.

Read: Functional HIV Cure Step Closer To Reality With FDA Approval Of Clinical Human Trials

“Early HIV therapy, in both children and adults, has been shown to reduce some of the damage to the immune system that HIV causes in the first few weeks and months of infection,” Dr. Michael Brady, medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust who was not directly involved in the study, told The Independent. “If we can understand this mechanism better it will hopefully lead to novel treatment strategies and, maybe one day, a cure.”

Results from the on-going study were presented recently at a conference in Paris, although researchers plan to continue studying this child, as well as others with similar circumstances, to better understand how HIV responds to early treatment.

What This Means

Although the young girl is not completely cured of HIV, her viral levels are so low that they are not able to reproduce. This means that there are not high enough levels of the virus in her body to override her immune system, leaving it strong enough to fight off other infections if necessary. In addition, low viral levels also dramatically lower the risk of her passing on the virus to others, although not completely. For example, having a low HIV viral load is considered to be as effective as consistently using a condom during vaginal sex in terms of preventing virus transmission, aidsmap reported. Women with undetectable viral loads have a 0.1 percent chance of passing on the virus to their children.

The child is the third individual in medical history to have obtained such a low viral count through this early intervention method. There are no genetic mutations that would otherwise have given her an immunity to the virus, so her resistance is most likely due to the experimental early treatment she received.

In addition, a baby born in 2010 known as “Mississippi baby” had her HIV infection suppressed for 27 months due to this treatment before the viral levels rose again. Another child born HIV positive in France received the same treatment until she was six years old. Now 20, she continues to maintain her low viral levels without the need of medication, CNN reported.

See Also:

HIV Cure Research: Successful Antibody Trial Brings Us Closer To Destroying Virus, And Creating Vaccine

HIV Cure 2017? New Research Suggests Way To Theoretically Eliminate Virus From Body