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Health Highlights: July 21, 2015

First Bionic Eye Implant for Macular Degeneration Florida Health Dept. Warns of Leprosy Threat From Armadillos Early Drug Treatment Protects HIV Patients' Health, Prevents Spread of Virus: Studies Teen's HIV Under Control 12 Years After Stopping Drug Treatment

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

First Bionic Eye Implant for Macular Degeneration

The world's first bionic eye implant in a patient with age-related macular degeneration was performed by surgeons in England.

The disease is the most common cause of vision loss in the developed world, BBC News reported.

Ray Flynn -- who had lost his central vision -- received a retinal implant that converts video images from a miniature video camera installed in his glasses. With the implant, Flynn can make out the direction of white lines on a computer screen.

He's delighted with the Argus II implant -- made by a U.S. company called Second Sight -- and hopes it will improve his vision enough to help with daily tasks such as shopping and gardening, BBC News reported.

The implant has previously been used to restore some vision to people with an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa.


Florida Health Dept. Warns of Leprosy Threat From Armadillos

Armadillos are to blame for a rise in leprosy cases in Florida, according to experts.

The Department of Health said nine cases have been reported in the state so far this year, nearly matching the average of 10 cases per year, CBS News/Associated Press reported.

Some armadillos in the southern United States are naturally infected with leprosy, and armadillos are common across Florida. They can spread the disease through saliva.

While the risk of getting leprosy from an armadillo is low, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should avoid contact with the animals, CBS News/AP reported.


Early Drug Treatment Protects HIV Patients' Health, Prevents Spread of Virus: Studies

Early drug treatment for HIV keeps patients healthy and prevents them from infecting others with the virus that causes AIDS, according to two new studies.

The findings presented Monday at an International AIDS Society meeting in Vancouver, Canada raise hopes that it's possible to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has killed nearly 40 million people and infected close to 37 million more worldwide, according to NBC News.

"The road for us going forward is very clear," Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said at the meeting. "We have now the unique opportunity of ending the pandemic."

One study showed that early treatment of HIV keeps the virus under control and also prevents illnesses caused as the virus weakens the immune system, such as cancer and pneumonia, NBC News reported.

The study of 4,600 HIV patients in 35 countries found that "the overall risk of developing serious AIDS events, serious non-AIDS events, or death, was reduced by 57 percent among those in the early treatment group, compared to those in the deferred (treatment) group," according to the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the study.

The second study found that giving HIV patients drug cocktails helped prevent the spread of the virus, NBC News reported.

"Throughout our decade-long study with more than 1,600 heterosexual couples, we did not observe HIV transmission when the HIV-infected partner's virus was stably suppressed by antiretroviral therapy," study leader Dr. Myron Cohen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said.

Last week, the United Nations AIDS agency said programs to get more drugs to HIV patients, to distribute condoms and clean needles, and to educate people about HIV/AIDS had saved 8 million lives, NBC News reported.


Teen's HIV Under Control 12 Years After Stopping Drug Treatment

A French teen born with HIV has the disease under control even though she stopped treatment 12 years ago, according to doctors. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The 18-year-old girl's situation is unique and provides hope that early, aggressive treatment can limit how strongly HIV takes hold and, in rare cases, even enable people to control it without having to take drugs all their life, the Associated Press reported.

The unidentified teen -- who lives in Paris -- may have some form of natural resistance to HIV that has not yet been discovered. While at least a dozen adults with HIV have had remissions for a median of 10 years after they stopped taking HIV medicines, doctors say the French girl is the first to have long-lasting remission that began in childhood.

Dr. Asier Saez-Cirion, of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, presented the case Monday at an International AIDS Society conference in Vancouver, Canada, the AP reported.

The girl's mother did not have her HIV under control while pregnant, and the girl was infected either before or during birth. The girl was given the HIV drug zidovudine (AZT) for six weeks, followed by a more powerful four-drug combination.

She kept taking HIV drugs until she was nearly 6, when doctors lost contact with her. When doctors saw her again a year later, the girl's mother said she had stopped giving her daughter the HIV drugs. However, doctors could not detect HIV in her blood so they decided not to restart drug treatment, the AP reported.

Since then, the girl's HIV levels have remained below a detection threshold, with the exception of brief rise when she was 11 that cleared up without drug treatment. Very sensitive tests show extremely low levels of HIV.

"This is an exciting story," but it is unknown if the remission will last, said Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, a Pasteur Institute scientist and a co-discoverer of HIV, the AP reported.

"This case is clearly additional evidence of the powerful benefit of starting treatment as soon as possible," she added.

"This girl is in remission of infection but she is infected" and not cured, Saez-Cirion noted, the AP reported.

He explained that the girl doesn't have any of the gene variants or other biomarkers known to provide natural control or protection from HIV infection, and her body could not suppress the virus on its own before she started taking the powerful drug combination.

These factors suggest that early drug treatment is responsible for her HIV remission, Saez-Cirion said, the AP reported.

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