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Rapid development of HIV elite control in a patient with acute infection



Elite controllers (EC), a small subset of the HIV-positive population (< 1%), suppress HIV viremia below the limit of quantification of clinical viral load assays in the absence of antiretroviral therapy (ART). However, there is a paucity of longitudinal data detailing the viral and immune dynamics or HIV reservoir seeding during acute infection in individuals that go on to become Elite Controllers.

Case presentation

In this report, we describe a case of a 42 year old woman diagnosed during acute infection who rapidly and permanently suppressed her viremia in the absence of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Rapid antibody/antigen testing was either negative or equivocal during acute infection, despite subsequent viral load testing at that time point with 71,550 plasma HIV RNA copies/mL, making initial diagnosis challenging. The patient subsequently developed detectable anti-HIV antibodies and an increase in HIV-specific CD8+ T cell responses to overlapping subtype C HIV gag peptide; very low-level plasma viremia (0.84 RNA copies/mL) was detected by an ultrasensitive assay 2 years following infection. Subsequently, she was started on ART for multifocal furunculosis despite continued suppression of virus and stable CD4+ T cell counts. Following ART initiation, HIV specific antibody levels and CD8+ T cell responses increased, but no HIV DNA or RNA was able to be isolated from large numbers of peripheral blood CD4+ T cells.


This case provides important information regarding the establishment of elite HIV control during acute infection and also demonstrates an increase in HIV-specific immune responses following ART despite undetectable peripheral blood cellular measures of HIV persistence. This case also highlights the challenges in diagnosing acute HIV infection without the use of viral load testing in this rare elite controller phenotype.

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