British man fully "recovers" from HIV

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Stylized rendering of a cross-section of the AIDS virus.

A 25 year old British man has been reported to have made a full recovery from the HIV virus . Andrew Stimpson did not take any drug treatments after being diagnosed with the virus in August 2002 and was found HIV negative in October 2003.

Stimpson's two HIV tests were performed by the Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare NHS Trust. It has been reported that the hospital is standing by the validity of the two tests that have so far been performed. The hospital would like to perform additional tests that might reveal an explanation for the two contradictory test results. Tests used for diagnosis of HIV infection can produce false positive results. When this happens, additional testing is required in order to determine if there ever was an actual infection. Some news reports suggest that Stimpson may have had contact with someone known to be HIV-positive and that multiple HIV tests performed by a clinic all gave positive results for Stimpson before he was first tested by the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. However, Michael Hopkin of the British journal Nature, has reported that while Stimpson tested positive for antibodies to HIV in 2002, "tests done during more than two dozen visits in 2003 and 2004 proved negative for the antibodies". This suggests that either HIV infection took an unusual course in Stimpson or the original test results indicating infection were a false positive.

After infection HIV spreads in the body and causes an immune response. In some patients, circulating HIV levels can decrease and remain hard to detect for several years.

Many similar cases have been reported in Africa, where the virus is widespread. Due to poor medical facilities all of these reports have been largely anecdotal—Mr Stimpson represents the first well documented case. However, until additional tests are performed it is impossible to know if the second test was a false negative. Dr. Andrew Grulich, who has a PhD in epidemiology and works at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at the University of New South Wales has expressed doubt that Stimpson was cured of an HIV infection. In some infected patients, HIV levels can fall to undetectably low levels until their immune system is defeated and virus levels begin to rise.

This discovery may offer a promising new window into how the virus works and furthers hopes that one day a vaccine and/or cure will be found for the disease that is carried by around 35 million people worldwide.