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Observations Medicine and the Media

Hype and the HIV cure

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 11 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1599
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}

Some media reports exaggerated the significance of the recent case of a functional cure of a baby with HIV, but that’s a result of publicising unpublished, non-peer reviewed research, says Margaret McCartney

Atul Gawande, the surgeon and author, was one of the first to react. “This is huge, stunning, world changing,” he tweeted, linking to a story of a “startling development” in the New York Times titled “In a medical first, a baby with HIV is deemed cured.”1 The article explained how a baby in the United States had been treated with antiretrovirals 30 hours after birth, and by 18 months of age the baby had no detectable viral load. The New York Times article explained that this demonstrated “proof of principle . . . if we can replicate this case.”

It also reported that other experts would need “convincing that the baby had truly been infected” and that this may have been a case of prevention of transmission rather than cure, as the BMJ also pointed out.2 It described this development in the context of other knowledge, such as the now established prophylactic treatment of …

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