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Liver. 1994 Aug;14(4):175-81.

Fluctuations in viremia, aminotransferases and IgM antibody to hepatitis B core antigen in chronic hepatitis B patients with disease exacerbations.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Bolognini Hospital, Seriate, Italy.


We studied the relationships between the serum levels of viremia, aminotransferases and IgM anti-HBc, measured by monthly quantitative assays, in 52 untreated chronic hepatitis B patients (41 anti-HBe+, 11 HBeAg+) followed up for 12-20 months. Forty hepatitis exacerbations were observed in 17/41 anti-HBe+ (41.5%) and in 6/11 HBeAg+ patients (54.5%) (p = NS); all but one were clinically asymptomatic. We analyzed the fluctuations in the serum levels of the three parameters before, during and after the hepatitis exacerbations and found this chronological sequence of events in 96.2% of them: HBV-DNA increase-->ALT flare-->IgM anti-HBc increase. These results suggest that both antiviral immune reactions and ALT flares were triggered by quantitative variations in viremia. HBV-DNA baseline levels before flares were lower in anti-HBe+ (3.9 +/- 1.2 pg/ml) than in HBeAg+ patients (35.3 +/- 5.4 pg/ml) (p < 0.0001) and there was an inverse correlation between basal values and viremia level increases at the time of disease exacerbations (p < 0.001). This suggests that for a hepatitis exacerbation to occur, low basal viremia needed to increase markedly, while moderate increases in HBV-DNA serum levels were sufficient to trigger ALT flares in patients with elevated basal viremia. In conclusion, asymptomatic hepatitis B exacerbations are frequent in the natural history of chronic HBV infection, and monthly monitoring of HBV-DNA, ALT and IgM anti-HBc appears to be a suitable method to evaluate their frequencies and entities. This method can be a helpful guide for clinical and therapeutic decision-making in the single patient with chronic hepatitis B.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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