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Drug combinations changing the face of pediatric AIDS


CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports on pediatric AIDS
Windows Media 28K 80K

February 1, 1999
Web posted at: 9:41 a.m. EST (1441 GMT)

CHICAGO (CNN) -- New drug "cocktails" have been a blessing for children with HIV, changing the face of pediatric AIDS from the specter of sickly children to one of hope and encouragement.

Because of the cocktails -- combinations of drugs used to treat the disease -- only one child died of AIDS last year at one New Jersey hospital. In 1996, before the drugs, 34 HIV-infected children at that same hospital died.

"It's clearly attributable to the aggressive anti-retroviral therapy," said the New Jersey Medical School's Dr. James Oleske, who oversees pediatric AIDS cases there.

Oleske co-chaired the Working Group on Antiretroviral Therapy and Medical Management of HIV Infected Children, convened in July 1997 by the National Pediatric and Family HIV Resource Center. The working group came up with guidelines for using the combination drug therapies and presented them to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, points to a set of three-year-old twins who now use the same three-drug cocktail adults take to combat the disease.

"They're doing very well," she says. "They're growing, gaining, thriving, doing everything that three-and-a-half-year-olds should be doing."

The twins are on a three-drug combination treatment  

The twins' father, who requested anonymity, says the new drug regimen has made the family's life more normal.

"We don't think of it day to day that our children have an illness," he said. "We just think we have to keep providing them medication."

That is one of the treatment's downsides: When parents don't give out the dosages according to a grueling, exact schedule, the deadly virus can start growing in the body again. And that's not all that could go wrong -- some children develop resistance to the drugs, which can make children feel terrible.

The drug therapy has worked wonders for many children, but it is not a cure for the disease. Doctors are still hoping for a vaccine made especially for children who are already infected.

Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.

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