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Summary

Background : The efficacy of lamivudine therapy in chronic hepatitis B is well established. However, drug-resistant YMDD mutants emerge with extended therapy. This may result in the resurgence of viral replication, the return of hepatitis and histological deterioration.

Aim : To study the safety of stopping lamivudine when the drug is no longer effective.

Methods : In the 5-year Asian Lamivudine Study, 34 patients from a single centre were included in this study. They had harboured YMDD mutants for at least 2 years. Lamivudine was discontinued and they were followed up at regular intervals. Clinical symptoms, liver biochemistry and viral serology were monitored.

Results : In a median follow-up of 20 months after stopping lamivudine (range, 7–39 months), 20 of the 34 patients (58.8%) had elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT), 13 patients (38.2%) had elevated ALT one to five times the upper limit of normal and seven patients (20.6%) had an ALT flare (ALT more than five times the upper limit of normal with detectable hepatitis B virus DNA). There was no liver decompensation. ALT flare could be predicted by ALT over twice the upper limit of normal at the time of stopping lamivudine (P = 0.037).

Conclusions : It is relatively safe to stop lamivudine after YMDD mutants have emerged. ALT levels greater than or equal to twice the upper limit of normal at the time of stopping lamivudine have a higher risk for ALT flare.