The aim of this study was to evaluate whether patients with chronic hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection treated with alpha interferon and subsequent loss of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) eliminate HDV. HDV RNA was detected in 26 of 28 patients with chronic delta hepatitis using the polymerase chain reaction. Seventeen patients in whom HDV RNA was detected were treated with alpha interferon; in 65%, HDV RNA remained detectable during treatment or reappeared after stopping therapy whereas in three patients HDV RNA remained absent (17.5%). HDV RNA became and remained undetectable in serum and liver of two of these three patients who lost HBsAg from serum and in one patient who was intermittently HBsAg negative during therapy. After loss of HBsAg, hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA was still detectable in the liver, but not HBV RNA, indicating absent or very low HBV replication. Three patients were lost to follow up (17.5%). Two nontreated patients with chronic HDV infection also lost HBsAg during follow up; HDV RNA also became undetectable in their serum. Thus, HDV replication does not persist after the loss of HBsAg. Clearance of HBsAg may be a useful guide to when therapy can be stopped. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.