Causes of Death with Hepatitis B in U.S.

A recent study followed 6,689 patients with hepatitis B virus (HBV) between 1996-2005 and analyzed causes of death (Hepatology 2013; 58: 21-30, editorial pg 6). This study used a large prospectively-collected database.

The patients were all part of Kaiser Permanente Northern California health plan.  Patients were not eligible if they were coinfected with HIV or HCV.  Causes of death were divided into HBV-related (eg. decompensated cirrhosis [DCC], hepatocellular carcinoma [HCC]) and other causes, including cancer and cardiovascular.

Among this cohort, 68.3% were Asian-Pacific Islander (API) descent, and 11.8% were white (non-hispanic); the remainder were other or unknown descent.  The cohort had a mean age of 41 years.


  • Males had higher overall 10-year death rates than females for total deaths (8.9% versus 4.1%) and for HBV-related deaths (4.8% versus 1.2%).
  • 46.7% of all deaths were HBV-related.
  • Death rate rose with increasing age; approximately 40% of deaths after age 40 were HBV-related.
  • Among HBV-related deaths, the death rate from HCC was twice the rate of DCC
  • “We did not find that subjects of API descent origin were at higher risk of death from HBV-related complications.”  This was unexpected because presumably “they are often infected in childhood and therefore have disease of longer duration.”
  • Limitations included absence of data on alcohol, cigarettes and coffee.  In addition, the study period occurred when treatment options for HBV were more limited.

The accompanying editorial notes wide variability in mortality outcome data depending on the study setting.   “Studies in patients with incidentally detected HBV infection, mostly conducted in blood donors in Western countries, tend to portray a benign course…with…their incidence of complications of chronic liver disease, HCC, or liver-related mortality is not significantly higher than that in hepatitis B surface antigen-negative healthy controls.”  In China, the lifetime risk for an infected patient to die from an HBV-related cause “has been estimated to be up to 50% in men and 15% in women.”

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