The idea that HIV is a virus that leads inexorably to AIDS has again been questioned following the close study of a baby born HIV-positive in a Los Angeles hospital.
Within 19 days, he was testing negative, as he did again after 51 days. Five years later, he is still negative, indicating that the virus just went away.
This is not the first time this supposed phenomenon has occurred, but previous reports have been dismissed as laboratory error. This latest case has been monitored too carefully to be so easily discounted; in fact, scientists are now wondering if the earlier research should be reopened.
Scientists also suspect that the Los Angeles case is just one of many that have occurred among newborns, infected by their mothers. The one puzzle is how newborns are able to throw off this apparently deadly virus when their immune systems have hardly started to work (NEJM, March 30, 1995).
Those who maintain that AIDS is merely a number of old diseases brought together under one umbrella term have had their argument supported by recent research.
Scientists at the New York University Medical Centre have found that AIDS-associated Kaposi's sarcoma has a similar DNA to the herpes virus (The Lancet, March 25, 1995).
Home testing kits for HIV now look like getting approval in America from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA had earlier blocked the kits, arguing that the tests should be carried out only by a physician.
If approval is given, those who test positive will need to be referred for counselling, the FDA has insisted, although gay rights groups are worried about how this can be enforced.
The test, which is being manufactured by three companies, requires a person to prick his finger and allow a few drops of blood to fall onto a special paper. The paper is then sent to a laboratory where it is screened for HIV. If the test is positive, one additional test has to be given. The results are given out by telephone a week later (JAMA, March 22, 1995).