To assess the degree of awareness of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guidelines and package insert information on the screening for and management of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection by rheumatologists in patients receiving immunomodulation drug therapies.
A questionnaire survey was administered to a nationwide sample of 1,000 members of the ACR. Each participating physician answered questions regarding their awareness of the risk of HBV reactivation, familiarity with published guidelines regarding HBV reactivation, their decision process in screening patients for HBV, knowledge of antiviral treatments for HBV, personal experience with HBV reactivation, and preferred approach to prophylaxis and subsequent monitoring of those patients.
Responses were highly variable with regard to awareness, screening, and treatment options. The overall response rate was 15.3%. Of those surveyed, 7.4% had seen HBV reactivation. Depending on the agent, 19–53% were aware of manufacturers' warnings for HBV reactivation within drug package inserts. Nearly three-quarters (72%) would screen for HBV reactivation regardless of the presence/absence of manufacturers' warnings. Only 69% reported performing universal screening prior to initiating therapy with biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. The majority (81%) would defer to a gastroenterologist/hepatologist to determine prophylactic therapy for HBV. Only 22% had managed patients who were given prophylaxis against HBV reactivation while receiving immunosuppressants.
Based on this survey, improving education among rheumatologists regarding the risks of HBV reactivation and its prevention for patients receiving immunosuppressants seems warranted. More specific consensus guidelines are recommended to achieve universal screening as the standard of care in these patients, especially with the increasing prevalence of HBV infection estimated in the US.