Two weeks ago, American doctors reported that they had “functionally” cured a baby infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, with an aggressive treatment of drugs starting some 30 hours after the baby was born. Experts hailed the feat but cautioned that the findings might have little relevance to adults. Now French researchers have identified 14 adults whose treatments with antiviral drugs began within a couple of months of infection, continued for one to seven and a half years, and then stopped. Their immune systems have been able to control their H.I.V. infection for years after the end of their treatment. The patients are not fully cured, which would require eliminating all traces of the virus from the body. Rather they are in remission, with extremely low levels of the virus that their immune systems keep in check. This is referred to as a functional cure. The researchers estimate that as many as 15 percent of adults who start treatment early and continue for at least a year may then be able to stop their drug regimen and live healthily without the drugs. Whether the virus will be held at bay forever or will reassert itself many years later is not known.For a novel about HIV/AIDS, try Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt:
1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.Another highly acclaimed HIV/AIDS novel is The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín:
It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother, Lily, and her grandmother, Dora have come together to tend to Helen's brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. With Declan's two friends, the six of them are forced to plumb the shoals of their own histories and to come to terms with each other. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, The Blackwater Lightship is a deeply resonant story about three generations of an estranged family reuniting to mourn an untimely death. In spare, luminous prose, Colm Tóibín explores the nature of love and the complex emotions inside a family at war with itself.For non-fiction, try the classic And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts:
By the time Rock Hudson's death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously? In answering these questions, Shilts weaves the disparate threads into a coherent story, pinning down every evasion and contradiction at the highest levels of the medical, political, and media establishments. Shilts shows that the epidemic spread wildly because the federal government put budget ahead of the nation's welfare; health authorities placed political expediency before the public health; and scientists were often more concerned with international prestige than saving lives. Against this backdrop, Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced. And the Band Played On is both a tribute to these heroic people and a stinging indictment of the institutions that failed the nation so badly.For a newer AIDS/HIV non-fiction account, try My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese:
Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, the town of Johnson City had always seemed exempt from the anxieties of modern American life. But when the local hospital treated its first AIDS patient, a crisis that had once seemed an “urban problem” had arrived in the town to stay. Working in Johnson City was Abraham Verghese, a young Indian doctor specializing in infectious diseases. Dr. Verghese became by necessity the local AIDS expert, soon besieged by a shocking number of male and female patients whose stories came to occupy his mind, and even take over his life. Verghese brought a singular perspective to Johnson City: as a doctor unique in his abilities; as an outsider who could talk to people suspicious of local practitioners; above all, as a writer of grace and compassion who saw that what was happening in this conservative community was both a medical and a spiritual emergency.
UPDATE: there's a good review of Brunt's novel over at the Insatiable Booksluts blog.