Acute hepatic failure (AHF) in India almost always presents with encephalopathy within 4 weeks of the onset of acute hepatitis. Further subclassification of AHF into hyperacute, acute and subacute forms may not be necessary in this geographical area, where the rapidity of onset of encephalopathy does not seem to influence survival. Viral hepatitis is the cause in approximately 95–100% of patients, who therefore constitute a more homogeneous population than AHF patients in the West. In India, hepatitis E (HEV) and hepatitis B (HBV) viruses are the most important causes of AHF; approximately 60% of cases are caused by to these viruses. Hepatitis B virus core mutants are very important agents in cases where hepatitis B results in AHF in this country. Half of the patients with AHF admitted to our centre are female, one-quarter of whom are pregnant. Therefore, pregnant females who contract viral hepatitis constitute a high-risk group for the development of AHF. However, the outcome of AHF in this group is similar to that in non-pregnant women and men. No association with any particular virus has been identified among sporadic cases of AHF.
In our centre, approximately one-third of AHF patients survive with aggressive conservative therapy, whereas two-thirds of deaths occur within 72 h of hospitalization. Cerebral oedema and sepsis are the major fatal complications. Both fungal and Gram-negative bacteria are major causes of sepsis. Among patients with AHF, despite the presence of sepsis, its overt clinical features (i.e. fever, leucocytosis) may be absent and objective documentation of the presence of sepsis in such patients is achieved by repeated culture of various body fluids. It should be possible to develop simple, clinical prognostic markers for AHF in this geographical region, in order to identify patients suitable for liver transplantation.