Ongoing Hepatitis B Susceptibility in U.S. Adults

H Roberts et al. Hepatology 2021; 74: 2353-2365. Prevalence of HBV Infection, Vaccine-Induced Immunity, and Susceptibility Among At-Risk Populations: US Households, 2013-2018

This article provides some useful trends in Hepatitis B virus (HBV) epidemiology based on NHANES surveys (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey).  Persons who tested negative for anti-HBc, HBsAg, and anti-HBs were considered susceptible to HBV infection.

Key Findings:

  • The estimated prevalence of persons living with chronic hepatitis B in the USA has remained unchanged at 0.3% since 1999. During 2013-2018, this accounted for 880,000 US residents who were living with chronic HBV infection. It is noted that only a minority of the 11.7 million residents with a history of HBV develop chronic HBV
  • The non-US-born population accounted for 69% (610,000) of persons living with chronic HBV and 70% of this group were Asian. Non-US born population had a 9-fold risk of chronic HBV compared to US-born persons
  • Among adults aged ≥ 25 years who resided in US households, an estimated 155.8 million persons (or 73.4%) were susceptible to HBV infection. Susceptibility was lower in the 25-49 age group (64.8%) compared to the 50 years and older group (81.6%)
  • Despite vaccine recommendations, at risk groups including those using illicit drugs, hx/o MSM, and HCV exposure continue to have high susceptibility; fewer than 25% of adults “deemed to be at high risk for contracting HBV infection had vaccine-induced immunity
  • Overall, vaccine-induced immunity increased to 21.4% (2013-2018) compared to previously 17.9% (2007-2012) in those 25 years and older
  • Limitations: lack of detectable anti-HBs is likely to overestimate susceptibility in those who have previously been vaccinated, participation in NHANES by non-US born persons may have been unequal, and determining timing of HBV acquisition by non-US born persons was not feasible in this study

My take: Lots of adults have chronic HBV and lots more are susceptible. How to identify and encourage adults to avoid vaccine-preventable illnesses is NOT getting easier.

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From NPR 12/5/21

Expanding Treatment Population in Chronic Hepatitis B?

W-J Jeng. AS Lok. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 2006-2014. Open Access: Should Treatment Indications for Chronic Hepatitis B Be Expanded?

In this review, the authors propose expanding treatment indications for chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV).

The authors review current guidelines (Table 2 lists the major society recommendations). For example, the AASLD recommends HBV treatment for the following:

  • Antiviral treatment in all patients with cirrhosis and detectable viremia, independent of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) or HBV DNA levels
  • For patients without cirrhosis, all guidelines recommend treatment in patients with immune active disease; treatment is mainly with a NA (nucleos(t)ide analog) until 1 year after confirmed HBeAg seroconversion for patients who were HBeAg-positive and until HBsAg loss for patients who were HBeAg-negative at the start of treatment
  • AASLD cut-offs for distinguishing immune active disease: ALT ≥2× ULN or evidence of significant histologic disease and HBV DNA >20,000 IU/mL for HBeAg (+) and >2000 IU/mL for HBeAg (–)

Why Expand Treatment Indications?

The main reason for advocating treatment of patients in the immune tolerant phase is the mounting evidence that persistently high viremia and persistent presence of HBeAg are associated with increased risk of cirrhosis, HCC, and liver-related mortality…In one study of 438 HBeAg-positive patients, the 15-year cumulative risk of cirrhosis and HCC increased from 3.7% and 2.1% in patients who seroconverted before age 30 to 12.9% and 3.2% in those who seroconverted between ages 30 and 40 and 42.9% and 7.7% in those who did so after age 40

Why Not Treat All Patients with Chronic Hepatitis B?

“An important reason for deferring treatment of patients in the immune tolerant phase is that spontaneous HBeAg and HBsAg clearance with remission of liver disease can occur.” This happens in 80% or more over 10-20 years.

Who Else Should Receive Treatment (Beyond Guidelines)?

“Available data support expanding treatment to immune tolerant patients and patients in the grey zones who have evidence of active/advanced liver disease based on liver biopsy or non-invasive tests and those who remain in the immune tolerant phase after age 40. Evidence supporting treatment expansion to confirmed inactive carriers and other immune tolerant patients is lacking.” “Grey zones” indicate that “the course of chronic HBV infection is characterized by fluctuations in HBV DNA and ALT levels, and many patients will be in the grey zone at some point.”

My take: Given the safety/tolerability of newer HBV treatments, these recommendations make sense. If/when HBV treatments improve further (higher loss of HBsAg or HBV DNA), then even more widespread use of HBV treatments would be worthwhile.

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Hyde Farm, Marietta GA

Disclaimer: This blog, gutsandgrowth, assumes no responsibility for any use or operation of any method, product, instruction, concept or idea contained in the material herein or for any injury or damage to persons or property (whether products liability, negligence or otherwise) resulting from such use or operation. These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  Because of rapid advances in the medical sciences, the gutsandgrowth blog cautions that independent verification should be made of diagnosis and drug dosages. The reader is solely responsible for the conduct of any suggested test or procedure.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.

Liver Shorts -January 2020

S Nagai et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2019; 17: 2759-68. For patients who underwent liver transplantation during 2016–2017, a significantly lower proportion of patients with NASH survived for 1 year after transplantation than patients with HCV (P = .004) or ALD (P < .001). 1-year patient survival rates: NASH 90.4%, HCV 92.8%, ALD 93.5%. Full Text: Increased Risk of Death in First Year After Liver Transplantation Among Patients With Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis vs Liver Disease of Other Etiologies

JE Squires et al. JPGN 2020; 70: 79-86.  Using a prospective, longitudinal database, this study from ChiLDReN network with 93 children with biliary atresia and native liver found that NO increased prevalence of neurodevelopmental delays. Markers of advanced liver disease (high bilirubin/GGT for those ≤5 yrs, and portal hypertension for those >5 years) did negatively affect neurodevelopmental measures.

C Jaramillo et al. JPGN 2020; 70: 87-92.  This pilot study with 21 patients found that degree of fibrosis, quantified by collagen hybridizing peptide, at time of Kasai, was associated with the risk of requiring a liver transplantation by age 4 years.  Total bilirubin >2 mg/dL and Albumin ❤ g/dL at 3 months post-Kasai were also associated significantly with need for liver transplantation.

H-S Chen et al. Hepatology 2019; 70: 1903-12. In this study from Taiwan with 182 children (median age of 10.6 at enrollment) with hepatitis B and a normal ALT, a baseline anti-HBc titer of >500 IU/mL was associated with spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion with hazard ratio of 2.81.  Over the median follow-up of 19.8 years, 85 subjects (46.7%) had HBeAg seroconversion. Thus, anit-HBc reflects anti-HBV immune response in the HBeAg-positive patients with normal ALT.

Comprehensive 2018 AASLD Guidance for Chronic Hepatitis B

NA Terrault et al. Hepatology 2018; 67: 1560-99. Here’s the full link: Update on Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Chronic Hepatitis B: AASLD 2018 Hepatitis B Guidance

Some of the key points:

Table 4 (pg 1565): provides a refresher on interpretation of serology

Table 5 (pg 1567): Children and Adults Who Are HBsAg Positive:

  • Can participate in all activities, including contact sports
  • Should not be excluded from daycare or school participation and should not be isolated from other children
  • Can share food and utensils and kiss others

Figure 1 (pg 1571) Treatment algorithms.

  • For both HBsAg-positive/HBeAg-positive and HBsAg-positive/HBeAg-negative patients, treatment is recommended if ALT ≥2 x ULN.
  • For both groups, treatment is NOT recommended for those with ALT ≤ULN and low HBV DNA levels (<20,000 IU/mL for HBeAg-positive and <2,000 IU/mL for HBeAg-negative).
  • In those who do not fall into these categories, ongoing monitoring is recommended

Figure 1 from AASLD Guidance Link

Guidance Statements for HCC Screening in HBsAg‐Positive Persons

  • All HBsAg‐positive patients and high risk adults (see page 1574) with cirrhosis should be screened with US examination with or without AFP every 6 months.
  • There are insufficient data to identify high‐risk groups for HCC in children. However, it is reasonable to screen HBsAg‐positive children and adolescents with advanced fibrosis (F3) or cirrhosis and those with a first‐degree family member with HCC using US examination with or without AFP every 6 months.


  • In adults: The AASLD recommends peg‐IFN, entecavir, or tenofovir (TDF) as preferred initial therapy for adults with immune‐active CHB
  • In children: The AASLD suggests antiviral therapy in HBeAg‐positive children (ages 2 to <18 years) with both elevated ALT and measurable HBV‐DNA levels, with the goal of achieving sustained HBeAg seroconversion.

Perinatal transmission:

  • The AASLD suggests antiviral therapy to reduce the risk of perinatal transmission of HBV in HBsAg‐positive pregnant women with an HBV‐DNA level >200,000 IU/mL..The only antivirals studied in pregnant women are lamivudine, telbivudine, and TDF. Of these 3 options, TDF is preferred to minimize the risk of emergence of viral resistance during treatment. Interim studies show high efficacy of TDF in preventing mother‐to‐child transmission.
  • The infants of all HBsAg‐positive women should receive immunoprophylaxis (HBV vaccination with or without hepatitis B immunoglobulin, per World Heath Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations)

Treatment & prevention of HBV reactivation in patients receiving immunosuppressive or cytotoxic drugs (section 6 pages 1577-9)

  • HBsAg and anti‐HBc (total or immunoglobulin G) testing should be performed in all persons before initiation of any immunosuppressive, cytotoxic, or immunomodulatory therapy.
  • HBsAg‐positive, anti‐HBc–positive patients should initiate anti‐HBV prophylaxis before immunosuppressive or cytotoxic therapy.
  • HBsAg‐negative, anti‐HBc–positive patients could be carefully monitored with ALT, HBV DNA, and HBsAg with the intent for on‐demand therapy, except for patients receiving anti‐CD20 antibody therapy (e.g., rituximab) or undergoing stem cell transplantation, for whom anti‐HBV prophylaxis is recommended.

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.

Tenofovir to Prevent Perinatal Transmission of Hepatitis B

Mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B virus (HBV) accounts for the majority of cases of chronic HBV infection.  HBV infection affects more than 250 million people worldwide and in many cases results in cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma.  As such, there has been interest in preventing perinatal transmission.

The most recent study (C Jourdain et al. NEJM 2018; 378: 911-23) again showed that tenofovir administration to pregnant women with HBV can prevent transmission.  This study enrolled 331 women.  Key findings:

  • 0% (0/147) infants in the tenofovir group developed HBV infection compared to 2% (3/147) in the control group. This did not reach statistical significance
  • The placebo group received HBV vaccination and hepatitis B immune globulin 1.2 hours and 1.3 hours after birth (median time).  This rapid provision of treatment along with completion of four doses of HBV vaccine likely helped keep the placebo group HBV infection rate low

In the related editorial (G Dusheiko. pg 952-3), it is noted that “current levels of evidence supporting antiviral therapy with TDF [tenofovir] (or possbily lamivudine or telbivudine) to reduce levels of maternal HBV DNA during pregnancy have been accepted by the” AASLD.

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Research for Fatty Liver Disease

Recently the AASLD Postgraduate Course discussed emerging treatments for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease/nonalchoholic steatohepatitis. From AASLD News: Emerging Treatments for NASH 

Key point:

  • Quentin Anstee: “It is important to remember that our patients with fatty liver disease will most likely die of cardiovascular disease, not liver disease.”

Four principles in treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to address both cardiovascular and liver risks.

  • Target obesity with lifestyle changes and, possibly, bariatric surgery.
  • Target metabolic syndrome to reduce cardiovascular disease risk using medications with additional liver-directed benefits.
  • Target liver disease to prevent progression of steatohepatitis to fibrosis and cirrhosis.
  • Minimize downstream complications such as hepatocellular carcinoma.

More than 60 phase 3 trials are underway –Primary Therapeutic Targets:

  • PPAR signaling (insulin signaling, glucose and lipid metabolism, energy homeostasis, inflammation)
  • FXR signaling (insulin sensitivity, glucogenesis, lipogenesis)
  • ASK1 signaling (apoptosis)
  • CCR2/CCR5 signaling (inflammation and fibrogenesis).

Chronic Hepatitis B in North American Children

As part of the Hepatitis B Research Network (HBRN), 343 children were enrolled in 7 U.S. and Canadian centers.  A recent study (KB Schwarz et al. J Pediatr 2015; 167: 1287-94) provides data on HBV epidemiology and a related commentary by Brian McMahon (1186-7) provides some useful advice on what is needed to further reduce HBV infection.

88 children were not enrolled.  More than half of these patients refused to participate, the other reasons included language barriers or inability to comply with follow-up.

Key findings:

  • 78% of the subjects in this study were Asian
  • 55% were adopted.  This high adoption rate likely skews some of the data because (according to the associated editorial) “children with HBV in the US..most are likely to be children of parents who immigrated to the US from endemic countries and not adoptees.”
  • 97% had international origins with either the child or a parent born abroad
  • HBV genotype B was most common (43%) followed by genotype C (32%), D (16%), A (5%), E (4%) or multiple (<1%).

In the editorial, Dr. McMahon notes that ascertaining the rate of a birth dose of HBV vaccine would be of interest.  In many countries, vaccination is started at ≥2 months and this is unlikely to prevent HBV transmission.  Two important public health issues for North America:

  • “First, all pregnant women, especially those foreign-born, need to be screened for HBsAg and if positive, their infants should receive HBV vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin immediately after birth.”
  • “Second, all foreign-born children and adults who immigrate to the US or Canada should be tested for HBsAg.”

My take: This study provides an up-to-date snapshot of tertiary care for children with HBV in North America.  There are many opportunities to curtail (or hopefully eliminate) the impact of HBV in our communities and around the world.

AASLD Guideline (Nov 2015): Treatment of Chronic HBV 

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Pediatric Entecavir Data

While entecavir and tenofovir have been in use for many years in adult hepatology for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, a well-designed study supporting their use in pediatrics has been lacking until now.  Recently, a study (M Jonas et al. Hepatology 2015; DOI: 10.1002/hep.28015)  has shown that entecavir is effective for pediatric HBV

Link to full study. Randomized Controlled Trial of Entecavir Versus Placebo in Children with HBeAg-positive Chronic Hepatitis B

Here’s the abstract:

This ongoing, randomized phase III study assesses the safety and efficacy of entecavir versus placebo in nucleos(t)ide-naive children (2 to <18 years) with HBeAg-positive chronic hepatitis B (CHB). Blinded treatment was administered for a minimum of 48 weeks. After Week 48, patients with HBeAg seroconversion continued blinded treatment; those without, switched to open-label entecavir. The primary endpoint was HBeAg seroconversion and HBV DNA <50 IU/mL at Week 48. A total of 180 patients were randomized (2:1) and treated. Baseline median age was 12 years, with approximately 50% of children aged >12 to <18, and 25% each aged ≥2 to ≤6 and >6 to ≤12. Rates for the primary endpoint at Week 48 were significantly higher with entecavir than placebo (24.2% [29/120] versus 3.3% [2/60]; P=0.0008). Furthermore, higher response rates were observed with entecavir compared with placebo for the key Week 48 secondary endpoints: HBV DNA <50 IU/mL (49.2% [59/120] versus 3.3% [2/60]; P < 0.0001), alanine aminotransferase normalization (67.5% [81/120] versus 23.3% [14/60]; P < 0.0001), and HBeAg seroconversion (24.2% [29/120] versus 10.0% [6/60]; P = 0.0210). Among entecavir-randomized patients there was an increase in all efficacy endpoints between Weeks 48 and 96, including an increase from 49% to 64% in virologic suppression. The cumulative probability of emergent entecavir resistance through Years 1 and 2 of entecavir was 0.6 and 2.6%, respectively. Entecavir was well tolerated with no observed differences in adverse events or changes in growth compared with placebo. Conclusion: In childhood CHB, entecavir demonstrated superior antiviral efficacy to placebo with a favorable safety profile. These results support the use of entecavir as a therapeutic option in children and adolescents with CHB.

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Preventing Vertical Transmission of Hepatitis B with Telbivudine

Briefly noted:

Wu Q et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 1170-76.  This was a prospective study of 450 Hepatitis B e antigen-positive pregnant women with HBV DNA levels greater than 10 to the 6th IU/mL.  279 women received telbivudine 600 mg daily starting between 24 to 32 weeks of gestation until delivery or up to a month thereafter; this treatment group was compared to 171 controls women unwilling to take the medication. All infants received vaccinations after birth along with hepatitis B immune globulin. None of the infants in the treatment arm acquired hepatitis B (negative HBsAg at 6 months) compared with 14.7% of infants in the control arm who were positive for infection.  no serious adverse effects were noted in the women receiving telbivudine or their infants.

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