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Gastroenterology. 2004 Sep;127(3):756-63.

Natural history of chronic HBV carriers in northern Italy: morbidity and mortality after 30 years.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy.



Increased morbidity and mortality from liver disease have been reported in chronic hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) carriers, but data on survival are equivocal. To assess the impact of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection on survival and liver-related complications, we re-evaluated, after a mean follow-up of 30 years, a cohort of 296 blood donors excluded from donation 30 years ago when HBsAg screening became mandatory.


Clinical and ultrasound examination and biochemical and virologic tests were performed. The cause of death was recorded and survival was compared with a control population of 157 HBV-negative blood donors selected at baseline.


Thirty-two (10.8%) cases and 14 controls (8.9%) ( P = 0.625) had died; 3 of 32 (9.3%) and 1 of 14 (7.1%) deaths were liver-related. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) caused death in 2 of 296 and 1 of 157 subjects (0.6% in each group). Alcohol-induced cirrhosis occured in the remaining subject. By Cox regression analysis, survival was independently predicted by older age, abnormal gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) levels, and presence of medical comorbidities at baseline. Unequivocal liver disease was found in 4 carriers only. No disease decompensation occurred during follow-up. Fifty-nine (32.2%) carriers cleared HBsAg (yearly incidence, 1.0%). Full-length serum HBV DNA was present in 32.2% of persistently HBsAg-positive individuals (average titer always <10 5 copies/mL).


Over a 30-year period, chronic HBV carrier blood donors from Northern Italy did not develop clinically significant liver disease, hepatocellular cancer, or other liver-related morbidity or mortality at a higher rate than uninfected controls. The presence of medical comorbidities, older age at diagnosis, and abnormal GGT levels were independent predictors of death among chronic HBV carriers.

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