Hepatitis B virus (HBV) was first discovered on aboriginal Australians in 1963. Epidemiological studies soon recognized that HBV is a global chronic liver disease, with the highest prevalence rates in Asia and Africa. HBV is highly infectious, and in most cases transmitted from family members. Infections acquired during the perinatal period have a 90% chance of progressing to persistent HBV infection. This rate decreases to 2.3% when infection occurs at college student age. The persistent HBV infection starts with the immune tolerance phase when our immune system may recognize HBV antigens, but does not produce significant inflammation. An immune clearance reaction may develop to terminate HBV replication two to four decades later. When this immune clearance reaction successfully suppresses HBV replication, HBsAg carriers may progress to the residual phase. About 50% of HBsAg carriers ultimately clear HBsAg at age 80. Those patients unable to clear HBV replication smoothly have increased risk of chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and hepatocarcinogenesis. Current therapies decrease hepatic decompensation and increase survival rate. However, the sustained virologic response rate is lower than 40%. About 50% of patients experience a clinical flare within one year after therapy ends. Further studies will be needed to improve sustained virologic response rate.
KeywordsHepatitis B virus Immune tolerance Perinatal infection HBV replication Interferon Nucleos(t)ide analogues Chronic hepatitis Hepatic decompensation Liver cirrhosis Hepatocellular carcinoma
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