Hepatitis D virus and hepatitis B virus nucleic acids were detected by Northern and Southern blot hybridlzation in the sera and livers of 85 chronic carriers of HBsAg and anti-hepatitis D followed up for a mean of 10 yr. We identified three subsets of patients: 13 with hepatitis D virus and hepatitis B virus viremia, 53 with serum hepatitis D virus RNA, but without hepatitis B virus DNA and 19 negative for both nucleic acids.
Genomic and subgenomic forms of hepatitis D virus RNA were detected only in patients with hepatitis D virus and hepatitis B virus viremia. Histological findings and disease activity at admission were comparable in the three groups of patients, but the outcome was significantly worse in patients with active replication of both viruses; two of them died of terminal liver failure and hepatocellular carcinoma developed in two; the remaining patients had an uneventful course. These results suggest that active hepatitis B virus replication represents an important previously unrecognized determinant of severe liver damage in patients with chronic hepatitis D virus infection. Since hepatitis B virus provides the means for hepatitis D virus secretion and release from infected cells, active hepatitis B virus multiplication favoring the spread of hepatitis D virus from cell to cell may increase the pathogenetic potential of the defective agent. (Hepatology 1991;13:413–416.)