WASHINGTON -- A new treatment can significantly reduce the number of life-threatening bacterial infections in some children with the AIDS virus, resulting in fewer hospitalizations and an improved quality of life, the National Institutes of Health announced yesterday.
Results from a controlled, clinical study demonstrated that monthly intravenous doses of immunoglobulin increased the time that children spent free from bacterial infections and reduced the number of bacterial infections they suffered, said the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The results were so compelling that NIH officials decided to offer the treatment to all of the children participating in the study. They also issued a "clinical alert" to physicians.
NIH officials said it was unclear whether the treatment could be effective in adults with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, because studies with the drug had not been conducted on them.
Dr. Gwendolyn B. Scott, vice chair of the AIDS task force of the American Academy of Pediatrics, called the study results "an encouraging development" that should "help HIV-infected children live a more comfortable life with fewer trips to the hospital."
Immunoglobulin is a solution derived from the blood of healthy volunteers that contains concentrated antibodies, proteins produced by the body to fight infections. The AIDS virus damages the body's immune system, making the individual vulnerable to a range of infections.
The drug, made by Cutter Biological, a subsidiary of Miles Inc., of Berkeley, Calif., is already marketed to treat infections in low-birth-weight babies, recipients of bone marrow transplants, children with leukemia and other ailments.
As of Nov. 30, 2,734 AIDS patients under the age of 13 were reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control. However, experts estimate that for every child reported with AIDS, two to 10 children may be HIV-infected, the NIH said.
The drug manufacturer said it intends to ask the Food and Drug Administration to approve this new use for the drug. The NIH said that each infusion of the drug costs between $200 and $400.