Some of the world's leading AIDS researchers and physicians have begun talking optimistically about the possibility of eliminating HIV from infected people.
Recent tests of existing and new treatments on tens of thousands of infected patients appear to have left them with no detectable signs of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the researchers say.
"If you had asked me in January, `Can you eradicate HIV infection?' I would have laughed in your face," Julio Montaner of the University of British Columbia was quoted as saying in Newsday June 12.
"But now we've been able to demonstrate that we can effectively suppress viral production. That is leading to a dramatic change in how we think of this disease," he said.
The clinical trials were discussed this month in Washington at a conference held by the medical journal Antiviral Therapy and the University of Amsterdam.
Scientists cited three factors for their optimism:
The development of a new class of anti-HIV drugs, three of which were licensed by the government earlier this year.
Successful tests to combine different families of HIV drugs in a "cocktail" that assaults the virus' ability to reproduce.
Tests that allow doctors to measure precisely the amount of HIV present in a patient's blood.
Scientists believe treating patients early with the mixture of HIV drugs may be reducing the virus to a level that a still-intact immune system can handle.
The Wall Street Journal reported June 12 that even cautious physicians are astonished by recent developments.
"It now appears, at the very least, we may finally have the tools to turn (AIDS) into a long-term manageable and treatable disease, much like hypertension and diabetes," said Roy Gullick, research physician at New York University Medical School.
"Almost every one of my patients is doing significantly better."
More than 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; almost 60,000 have been treated with the new drugs, none for more than two years.