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Background:

Exacerbation of chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to fulminant hepatic failure with a mortality of up to 90%.

Aim:

To evaluate the efficacy of lamivudine in the treatment of this subgroup of patients.

Methods:

Twenty-four patients with exacerbation of chronic hepatitis B infection and fulminant hepatic failure were treated with lamivudine, 100 mg daily. Hepatitis A, C, D and human immunodeficiency virus co-infections and hepatocellular carcinoma were excluded.

Results:

The median age was 53 years (range, 24–77 years) with a male predominance of 20:4. Seventeen patients were hepatitis B e antigen positive. Mean hepatitis B virus DNA was 2079 Meq/mL. Eight patients (33%) survived (group A). Thirteen patients died and three patients received liver transplantation (67%) (group B). Baseline laboratory results were comparable between the two groups, including serum albumin, bilirubin, alanine aminotransferase, prothrombin time and creatinine. Group B patients had significantly more comorbid illnesses at baseline and more complications, including sepsis and renal failure, compared with group A patients. Six out of eight survivors (75%) had full hepatitis B e antigen seroconversion, but this was not sustained in four patients.

Conclusions:

Lamivudine may be useful in treating patients with fulminant hepatic failure due to exacerbation of chronic hepatitis B. Hepatitis B e antigen seroconversion was less durable in this subgroup of patients and long-term therapy may be required.