In 44 hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers with chronic persistent hepatitis (CPH), serial liver biopsies were available. At presentation 38 patients had HBV-DNA in their serum including 31 HBeAg positive and seven anti-HBe positive cases. The remaining six patients were anti-HBe positive and HBV-DNA negative. During a mean histologic follow-up of 4.2 years, 12 (32%) of the 38 HBV-DNA positive patients progressed to chronic active hepatitis (six cases) or to active cirrhosis (six cases), while 26 patients showed either unchanged features of CPH (21 cases), or histologic improvement to normal liver (five cases). Persistence of HBV-DNA in serum, independently of HBeAg/anti-HBe events, was significantly (p less than 0.01) associated with deterioration of liver disease, while termination of HBV replication correlated significantly (p less than 0.05) with spontaneous biochemical remission and with unchanged or improved histology. None of the six anti-HBe positive patients without serologic markers of hepatitis B virus replication showed histologic deterioration. These findings indicate that continuing HBV replication is a marker which predicts unfavourable evolution of chronic persistent hepatitis and frequent transition to chronic active hepatitis or cirrhosis.
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