Long-term histologic and virologic outcomes of acute self-limited hepatitis B



The long-term impact of acute self-limited hepatitis B on the liver is unknown. Fourteen patients were recalled at a median of 4.2 years (range, 1.8-9.5 years) after the onset of acute hepatitis B. All showed clinical and serologic recovery with circulating hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) clearance. Antibody to HBsAg (anti-HBs) had developed in 12 patients. Nine underwent liver biopsies at a median of 7.2 years, and histologic findings were evaluated using Ishak scores. Serum samples and frozen liver tissue were subjected to real-time detection polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to quantify the surface and X regions of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) genome and qualitative PCR to detect the covalently closed circular (ccc) HBV DNA replicative intermediate. Three patients had low levels of circulating HBV DNA up to 8.9 years after the onset, whereas both HBV DNA surface and X regions were found in the liver of all 9 patients examined, including 7 negative for serum HBV DNA. Liver viral loads assessed by the 2 regions showed a significant correlation (r = 0.946; P = .008), and all patients tested positive for ccc HBV DNA. Liver fibrosis and mild inflammation persisted in 8 patients. The fibrosis stage had relation to peak serum HBV DNA in the acute phase (P = .046) but not to liver viral loads in the late convalescent phase. In conclusion, occult HBV infection persists in the liver and is accompanied by abnormal liver histology for a decade after complete clinical recovery from acute self-limited hepatitis B.