Hepatitis B: Natural History and Difficulty Treating Immunotolerant Children

S Mo et al. JPGN 2021; 73: 150-155. Natural History of Chronic Hepatitis B Infection Among Chinese Children and Young Adults: A Single-Center Experience

Key findings:

  • Of the 353 patients, there were immune-tolerant 112 (34%), HBeAg-positive immune-active 47 (14%), and inactive carrier 82 (25%). The remaining 88 patients (27%) did not fit into a particular category with 26 of 88 patients meeting the criteria for inactive carrier except for mildly elevated alanine aminotransferase
  • Among 179 patients followed for ≥5 years, the spontaneous seroconversion rate was 38% (from HBeAg-positive to HBeAg-negative along with anti-HBeAb positivity)

In their discussion, the authors make two key points:

  1. “No substantial benefit from anti-viral therapy” has been evident in children in the immuno-tolerant phase (MM Jonas et al. Hepatology 2016; 63: 307-318.)
  2. The updated AASLD guidelines “strongly recommend anti-viral therapy for HBeAg-positive pregnant women with a serum HBV DNA >200,000 IU/mL”

G Mieli-Vergani et al. JPGN 2021; 73: 156-160. Peginterferon Alfa-2a (40KD) Plus Lamivudine or Entecavir in Children With Immune-Tolerant Chronic Hepatitis B

As noted above, antiviral therapy has not been shown to be effective in children who are in the immuno-tolerant phase; however, the authors of this study explored whether combination therapy could be effective in a randomized, controlled, multicenter study (n=59).

  • Key finding: At 24 weeks post-treatment, 1 of 26 patients in the antiviral treatment group experienced HBsAg loss (vs none of 33 patients in the control group)

My take: These studies reinforce the notion that children in the immuno-tolerant phase of HBV infection do not benefit from antiviral therapy. Prevention of infection is the most promising strategy.

Related blog posts:

Confirmation Bias diagram. From Steve Stewart-Williams