Hepatitis B virus infection in dialysis patients


Dr Ping-Nam Wong, Renal Unit, Department of Medicine and Geriatrics, Kwong Wah Hospital, 25 Waterloo Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Email: apnwong@yahoo.com


Abstract  Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection remains a major issue among dialysis patients. It is associated with a high risk of hepatic complication. The liver disease runs a unique clinical course in dialysis patients, as it can progress with modest hepatic inflammation and prominent fibrosis. The conventional cut-off level of serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) for commencing antiviral therapy may prove too high and inappropriate for dialysis patients, and liver biopsy appears to be the only definitive means to establish the activity of liver disease in dialysis patients. Liver biopsy should be considered in patients with a serum ALT level that is persistently greater than 30 IU/L, or 0.75-fold the upper limit of the normal level, and/or other clinical and laboratory findings that suggest active liver disease. For antiviral treatment, preliminary reports have shown that lamivudine is effective and well tolerated in dialysis patients. However, the long-term efficacy of lamivudine and its optimal effective dose in dialysis patients remain unknown. The prevention of nosocomial transmission among dialysis patients is also important. Universal precaution measures should be strictly observed and the segregation of hepatitis B surface antigen-positive hemodialysis patients should be considered. For HBV non-immune patients, the importance of HBV vaccination should not be overemphasized. Until a new generation of highly immunogenic vaccines that are proven to be safe and effective in patients with end-stage renal disease becomes available, early vaccination before the development of end-stage renal failure remains the best way to secure immunological protection against HBV infection in dialysis patients.