Background: Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) causes severe liver disease.
Aims: To investigate the quantitative HDV-RNA, HBsAg and hepatitis B virus (HBV)DNA levels in correlation to histological, biochemical and demographical parameters in patients with chronic HDV infection as similar data in a large series of HDV patients are missing.
Methods: Eighty HDV patients were recruited in Germany, Turkey and Greece; quantitative determination of HDV-RNA, HBsAg and HBV-DNA was performed by real-time polymerase chain reaction, the Architect HBsAg assay and Cobas TaqMan HBV test respectively.
Results: All patients were infected with HDV-genotype 1. Thirty-five patients (48%) had significant fibrosis (Ishak 3–4) and 15 (20.5%) had cirrhosis. HDV viraemia ranged from 1.1 × 103 to 8.4 × 107 copies/ml with 60% of patients showing HDV-RNA levels above 105 copies/ml accompanied by low HBV viraemia (<105 copies/ml). However, HDV-RNA and HBV-DNA levels showed no direct inverse correlation. HDV-RNA correlated positively with HBsAg and negatively with age. HBsAg correlated negatively with age and positively with histological grading. Only γ-glutamyltranspeptidase was independently associated with cirrhosis (P=0.032), while no biochemical parameter was associated with grading.
Conclusions: (i) HBsAg levels correlated with HDV viraemia in chronic HDV. (ii) Biochemical parameters did not accurately indicate the stage and grade of liver disease in chronic HDV and thus liver biopsy seems to remain the major tool for the evaluation of delta hepatitis patients.