, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 696-701

Spontaneous hepatitis B surface antigen clearance in a long-term follow-up study of patients with chronic type B hepatitis. Lack of correlation with hepatitis C and D virus superinfection

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We investigated the frequency of HBsAg clearance and the possible role of viral superinfection in a long-term follow-up of 184 patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB). Our subjects were 184 patients with chronic hepatitis B and the follow-up was 12–216 months (mean 66.2±53.7 months). The investigative methods used were: immunoenzymatic assays for HBV, HCV, HDV, and HIV markers; polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for HBV DNA; and liver biopsy and immunoperoxidase. During the follow-up, 20 of the 184 patients cleared serum HBsAg. A comparison of patients with persistent HBsAg (group I) and of those who cleared this marker (group II) showed a significant difference in mortality (P=0.002) between the two groups and a tendency to a more severe exacerbation (flare) in group II (P=0.07). Antibodies to hepatitis C and D virus as well as antibodies to HIV were equally distributed in both groups. Thirteen patients (7.9%) from group I, but none from group II, subsequently developed hepatocellular carcinoma. These results suggest that the frequency of spontaneous clearance of HBsAg during chronic HBV infection is low. No determinant factor for the clearance was found, including the presence of liver cirrhosis. Serum HBV DNA was undetectable by PCR after clearance in 16 out of 17 patients.

Some of these findings were presented at the Biennial Scientific Meeting of the International Association for the Study of the Liver, held in Brighton, UK, in June 1992.