Lead author Asier Saez-Cirion of the Pasteur Institute in Paris said this study has something in common with the report last week of a baby in Mississippi described as "functionally cured" of HIV after aggressive anti-retroviral drug treatment within 30 hours of birth.
The infant remained on anti-virals until 18 months of age, at which point the mother no longer brought the child in for treatment. Ten months after discontinuation of treatment, the child underwent repeated standard blood tests, none of which detected HIV presence in the blood, the study said.
In the French study, the adult patients were treated for HIV with a range of anti-retroviral drugs, each within 10 weeks of infection, and stopped treatment around three years afterwards on average, Radio France Internationale reported.
Despite maintaining a low level HIV in their cells, the patients kept viral loads under control for a median seven years without drug treatment, the study said.
However, experts warned most of the 34 million people infected with HIV worldwide would develop full-blown AIDS if they stopped taking their medications.
The findings were published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.