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J Rheumatol. 2010 Feb;37(2):346-50. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.090436. Epub 2009 Dec 15.

Possible reactivation of potential hepatitis B virus occult infection by tumor necrosis factor-alpha blocker in the treatment of rheumatic diseases.

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Division of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine, Hanyang University College of Medicine, Guri, Republic of Korea.



To assess the safety of anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha) therapy in patients with rheumatic diseases in terms of the reactivation of potential hepatitis B virus (HBV) occult infection.


Patients who had taken anti-TNF-alpha for the treatment of rheumatic diseases from January 2002 to May 2008 were included in the study. In this patient group, we retrospectively investigated a series of serum aminotransferase levels, HBV serologic status, the type of anti-TNF-alpha therapy, duration of the anti-TNF-alpha treatment, and concurrent use of hepatotoxic drugs.


A total of 266 cases were documented using 3 serologic markers for HBV infection: HBV surface antigen (HBsAg), HBV surface antibody (HBsAb), and HBV core IgG Ab (HBcAb). Of these, 8 cases had chronic hepatitis B (HBsAg+), 170 cases were HBcAb-negative, and 88 cases were identified as having potential HBV occult infections represented by HBsAg-negative and HBcAb-positive, irrespective of the status of the HBsAb. The frequency of clinically significant (> 2 times normal value) and persistent increase (> 2 consecutive tests) of aminotransferase levels was significantly higher in the group with a potential HBV occult infection compared to the HBcAb-negative group. In the multiple logistic regression analysis controlling for various potential confounding factors such as prophylactic anti-tuberculosis medication, methotrexate, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, and the type of anti-TNF-alpha therapy, only potential HBV occult infection was a significant risk factor for abnormal liver function test (LFT).


All rheumatic patients who plan to take anti-TNF-alpha treatment should undergo a test for HBV serology, including HBcAb, and have a close followup with an LFT test during therapy. Further prospective studies for hepatitis B viral load using HBV-polymerase chain reaction in patients who are HbcAb positive are needed to identify whether the abnormal LFT comes from the reactivation of occult HBV infection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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