ICBioethics Blog 

The Dangers of Using the Word Cure

By now, most people have heard about the 2-1/2 year-old who was reportedly cured of HIV. It has been making headlines across the nation. The baby began receiving heavy doses of three drugs by infusion for the first 30 hours after birth. Now, the HIV virus is not just undetectable, but untraceable.  The physicians involved say that this is as close to a cure as one can get. It is actually labeled as a long-term remission.

There is no way of knowing in the future if the child may relapse, but I am sure that the physicians involved will be monitoring this baby for years to come.

But what does the word cure really mean? According the Oxford English Dictionary, cure is defined as, “successful medical treatment; the action or process of healing a wound, a disease, or a sick person; restoration to health.” The case at face value fits this definition. Health was restored. However, there is no way of knowing if this is technically a successful medical treatment. The drugs were able to stop the HIV from developing reservoirs of dormant cells with the HIV virus. So there is potential for relapse and possible infection down the road. This is the first baby to have this pronouncement. The word cure creates headlines, sensationalizes the treatment, and can ultimately create bad press.

A good example of being cautious of using the word cure is in cancer treatment. When a cancer patient is at the end of their treatment and all tests indicate that the cancer is no longer in the body, the oncologist and physicians use the word remission. It is not for five years, that the word cure is used. Oncologists continue with routine screenings and checkups to monitor for relapse as well as discuss the rates of relapse. In the case of the baby, there are no relapse rates available, and there is no long-term standardized plan.

By creating this frenzy, those involved have fostered hope in the minds of many HIV positive and AIDS patients around the world. However, this case is not an example of a cure for those who have been dealing with HIV for years. This case introduced treatment to the pediatric patient shortly after the HIV virus was introduced to the blood stream. In this case, the pediatric patient was knowingly at risk so preparations and treatments were introduced as soon as possible. For most, they are not aware that the HIV is being introduced to their body. Even a few hours could be too late. While this case is an amazing example of proactive thought and follow-through by the physicians, it still illustrates the importance of knowing one’s HIV status especially for pregnant women. If this case can teach the average person anything, it is the importance of getting tested. Know your status. Take precautions to not infect yourself or others.

Mitch GennusoComment