Why Fewer Children Have Immune-Tolerant Hepatitis B Infection Than Previously

A recent study (KB Schwarz et al. JPGN 2019; 69: 588-94) highlights the chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) phenotypes from a large pediatric North American cohort (n=371).

  • Immune-tolerant HBV was define by HBe-Ag-positivity along with normal ALT levels.
  • Inactive carrier were HBe-Ag-negative with low HBV DNA/normal ALT.
  • Chronic hepatitis B (HBeAg positive and HBeAg negative) had high HBV DNA and abnormal ALT values.
  • Indeterminant HBV had characteristics did not allow them to classified in these four categories.

Key findings:

  • If local laboratory normative values were used 36% of children would have been classified as immune-tolerant*.  However, this drops down to 12% if updated upper limits of normal (ULN) are used based on Figure 3.
  • Using updated ULN, 62% had immune active HBeAg+ disease, 12% with immune-tolerant HBV, 4% with immune-active HBeAg-negative disease, 6% with inactive carrier, and 16% indeterminant HBV.

*There are a few discrepancies between Figure 3 and the abstract data.  The abstract states that 82% would be considered to have chronic hepatitis B (this is 62% in figure 3). The abstract states that 35% were immune-tolerant based on local lab values.

The data presented were cross-sectional data at time of patient enrollment.

My take: this study shows that very few children in this cohort were immune tolerant based on more precise ULN values.  The authors note that the cohort who were immune tolerant were largely drawn from Asian children (most often infected perinatally).

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Lincoln Park, Chicago


PEG-B-ACTIVE Study: Efficacy of Peginterferon for Children with Hep B

A recent randomized controlled, open-label study (S Wirth et al. Hepatology 2018; 68: 1681-94) examined the use of weekly peginterferon alfa-2a (PEG) in 161 children (3-18 yrs) with immune-active HBe-Ag-positive children.  The two main groups were for those without advanced fibrosis: a PEG group (n=101) and a placebo group (n=50).  A third group enrolled 10 patients with advanced fibrosis who all received PEG. The treatment period was 48 weeks with ongoing observation for an additional 24 weeks.

Key findings:

  • The PEG group had HBeAg seroconversion of  8% at 48 weeks and 26% at 72 weeks; the placebo group had HBeAg seroconversion of 6% at both timepoints. At 72 weeks, the odds ratio was 5.43 for the PEG group and P=0.0043.
  • HBsAg clearance rates were higher in the PEG group: 8.9% vs 0% in placebo group.
  • The authors showed response (loss of HBeAg) by age and those <5 years had the highest response 43% (6 of 14).  The rate of seroconversion was 30.2% in those <12 years compared with 20.8% in those ≥12 years.
  • The authors showed response (loss of HBeAg) those with ALT values between 2-<5 had the highest response of 35% (15 of 43).
  • Adverse events were frequent –among the 101 treated patients: 49 with pyrexia, 30 with headache, 19 with abdominal pain, 15 with influenza-like illness, 14 with vomiting, 61 with ALT >5 x ULN, 25 with ALT >10 x ULN, 19 with neutropenia (ANC <750), and two with self-limited increased thyroid-stimulating hormone. These were all much higher than in the placebo group

My take: This study does not answer the question about which treatment is optimal for hepatitis B in children–direct-acting antivirals (eg. entecavir, and tenofovir) or peginterferon.  It does shows that weekly peginterferon alfa-2a was associated with HBeAg seroconversion in 26% of recipients at week 72.  Although a high number of patients experienced adverse effects, there were no new safety signals identified.

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View from Parker Ridge, near Banff

Hep B-related Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Kids: 8 Needles in 4 Haystacks

Over a 25-year period, investigators (DB Mogul et al. JPGN 2018; 67: 437-440) from 4 medical centers identified 8 patients (8-17 years) with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) associated with hepatitis B virus (HBV).

The authors indicate that all of the cases were thought to have acquired HBV via vertical transmission.

Key features:

  • 3 were asymptomatic; 50% reported abdominal pain
  • Only 1 case presented to a hepatologist
  • 4 patients had ALT values <1.5 times the upper limit of normal
  • Among those with documented HBeAg (n=3), all were negative and all were positive for anti-HBeAb
  • Alphafetoprotein was elevated in 3 patients, normal in 2 patients and not documented in 3 patients.

My take: HCC rarely occurs in children with HBV.  The most effective way to reduce HCC is through prevention, particularly vaccination.  The role of regular imaging which could detect tumors earlier remains unclear (in the absence of a risk factor like cirrhosis); in this series, only one patient presented to a hepatologist.

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Lake Agnes, Banff

Changing Liver Mortality Trends Since 2007

A recent study (D Kim et al. Gastroenterol 2018; 155: 1154-63) used a CDC database which captures >99% of deaths in the U.S. to analyze mortality trends from 2007 through 2016.  Full text link available online: Changing Trends in Etiology-Based Annual Liver Mortality

When looking at all-cause mortality, there has been a significant decline in deaths associated with hepatitis C (HCV) but not in deaths associated with alcoholic liver disease (ALD).  The image below shows the trend and the impact of direct-acting antivirals.  Deaths associated with nonalcholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and due to hepatitis B (HBV) are described in this study as well, though both together account for less than 1/4th deaths associated with ALD.  Interestingly, mortality related to NAFLD was increasing slowly over the study period.

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Liver Briefs May 2017

Briefly noted:

O Jeanniard-Malet et al. JPGN 2017; 64: 524-7. This survey of 28 centers in France assessed clinical practice with regard to primary prophylaxis in portal hypertension. More than 75% use endoscopy to screen for varices in patients with chronic liver conditions. “In cases of grade 2 varices with red marks and grade 3 varices >90% of centres perform sclerotherapy or endoscopic variceal ligation.”

Y-D Ren et al. Hepatology 2017; 65: 1765-8. FMT for chronic HBV? This small study with 5 patients who received fecal microbiota transplantation in an effort to clear HBeAg.  There were 13 controls.  Patients in both group received either ongoing entecavir or tenofovir antiviral therapy (& had received for at least 3 years). FMT was given every 4 weeks (1 to 7 treatments). HBeAg declined gradually after each round.  Three patients in the FMT arm cleared HBeAg compared with none in the control arm.  Two of the three cleared HBeAg after on FMT and the third after two rounds of FMT.

Y Sun et al. Hepatology 2017; 65: 1438-50.  In this report, the authors propose to augment the liver biopsy classification in patients with Hepatitis B.  Their goal is to provide more information about dynamic changes regarding fibrosis using three terms:

  • Predominantly progressive: thick/broad/loose/pale septa with inflammation
  • Predominantly regressive: delicate/thin/dense/splitting septa
  • Indeteminate

Using this new designation, they characterized 71 paired liver biopsies before and after entecavir for 78 weeks.  Before treatment: 58%, 29%, and 13% for progressive, regressive and indeterminate; after treatment: 11%, 11%, and 78% respectively.

Rodin Museum, Gates of Hell


Is It Time To Start Testing HBsAg Levels in Hep B Patients?

Two recent studies show that HBsAg levels may help determine therapeutic decisions:

  • WP Brower et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2016; 14: 1481-89
  • Y-C Hsu et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2016; 14: 1490-98.

The first study was a retrospective study of 292 HBeAg-negative patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection.  This cohort had normal ALT values and HBV DNA <20,000 IU/mL.  Patients were considered to be carriers of inactive HBV if their HBV DNA was <2000 IU/mL and serum levels of ALT remained normal.

Key findings with regard to likelihood of having inactive HBV at following year:

  • “odds were 97% for initial level of HBsAg <100 IU/mL”
  • “odds were 85% for patients with initial levels 100-1000 IU/mL and 76% for patients with initial levels >1000 IU/mL”

Also, “patients with HBV activity who had levels of HBV DNA <5000 IU/mL and decreases in HBsAg of 0.5 log IU/mL or more for 1 year had a high probability of becoming carriers of inactive HBV in the next year.” Figure 2 in an easy graphic form shows cumulative probabilities of becoming inactive or active HBV over the three-year period.

In the second study, Hsu et al performed a prospective study of 161 consecutive patients with undetectable HBV DNA following 3 or more years of entecavir.  After stopping therapy, patients were monitored for relapse.

Key findings;

  • 49.2% of patients had a clinical relapse (defined by elevation of both HBV DNA >2000 IU/mL and by elevated ALT >2-fold ULN)
  • 81.7% had virological relapse (HBV DNA >2000 IU/mL).
  • All patients with HBeAg-positivity had clinical relapse and were retreated.
  • For HBeAg negative patients at end of treatment, 39.2% had a clinical relapse & 77.4% had a virological relapse.
  • Serum HBsAg level predicted relapse among HBeAg-negative patients: 11 patients with HBsAg <10 IU/mL did not relapse. The lower the serum level of HBsAg at the end of treatment, the lower the rate of clinical relapse (see Figure 1).  Of those with HBsAg 100-1000, there was ~25% clinical relapse at 30 months f/u and more than 50% virological relapse.

My take: HBsAg level is becoming important in truly determining who has inactive HBV and reflects the likely natural history.  It is expected that using HBsAg levels will be increasingly used to determine management of HBeAg-negative HBV.

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Hepatocellular Carcinoma Still Occurs in Patients who Clear HBsAg

Briefly noted:

Editorial: MH Nathanson, N Terrault Hepatology 2016; 64: 328-29. This very unusual editorial explains a published erratum of 2010 paper reversing a claim that patients with Hepatitis B who had achieved HBsAg clearance had markedly decreased rates of hepatocellular carcinoma (37 cases per 100,000 person-years). After correction of the arithmetic error, the rate of HCC in this population was actually 442 cases per 100,000 person-years.  The editorial does reiterate that studies have shown lower HCC among those with low HBV DNA which is a prerequisite for HBsAg clearance. Exact risk is difficult in this population due to infrequent development of HBsAg loss and infrequent development of HCC.  The message: While loss of HBsAg may lower HCC risk, there remains a need for HCC surveillance.

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Wild Goose Island, Glacier Natl Park

Wild Goose Island, Glacier Natl Park

Preventing Neonatal Hepatitis B Transmission with Tenofovir

A recent study (CQ Pan et al. NEJM 2016; 374: 2324-34) showed that tenofovir administered to mothers starting at 30-32 weeks of gestation lowered the rate of perinatal hepatitis B virus (HBV) acquisition.This was a multi center, open-label, randomized parallel-group design trial.  The maternal tenofovir dose was 300 mg.

Key points:

  • 200 mothers with HBeAg and HBV DNA >200,000 IU/mL in this study
  • 68% achieved an HBV DNA level <200,000 IU/mL (compared with 2% of controls).  Above this threshold has been shown to be associated with increased HBV transmission.
  • 5 of 97 (5%) in the treatment group acquired HBV compared to 18 of 100 in the control group.  However, in the per-protocol analysis which excluded infants born to women who withdrew consent, were lost to follow-up, or discontinued therapy there were 0 cases of transmission (0 of 88).
  • There were no specific safety signals identified in this study.  In the discussion, the authors note that the Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry which includes data from 4013 women who received tenofovir, the rate of birth defects with TDF was 2.4% compared to the general population rate of 2.7%.

My take: This study provides more evidence that antivirals can prevent perinatal HBV infection.

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Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 10.56.30 PM

HCV Guidelines

The AASLD-IDSA Recommendations for Hepatitis C Virus have been published (Hepatology 2015; 62: 932-954).  The entire report is accessible from hcvguidelines.org and from the link: HCV Guidance 2015. While having a hard copy is easy to work with, the HCVguidelines website is likely to remain more up-to-date.

A few recommendations to highlight:

  • #6. “Antiviral treatment is recommended for all patients with chronic HCV infection, except those with limited life expectancy due to nonhepatic causes (I-A)
  • #7. “If resources limit the ability to treat all infected patients immediately as recommended, then it is most appropriate to treat those at greatest risk of disease complications” (see Tables 3 and 4)
  • #8. “Use of noninvasive testing or liver biopsy is recommended in order to assess the degree of hepatic fibrosis and, hence, the urgency of immediate treatment. (I-A)”

Other Hepatology studies of interest, briefly noted:

Hepatology 2015; 62: 684-93.  Nucleos(t)ide analog “treatment does not increase the risk of renal and bone events in general.  Nucleotide analogs may increase the risk of hip fractures, but the overall event rate is low.”  This study examined 46,454 untreated chronic hepatitis B patients in comparison to 7,046 treated patients.

Hepatology 2015; 62: 715-25. This study looked at the safety of simeprevir and sofosbuvir in hepatitis C-infected patients.  “Adverse safety outcomes were similar to matched untreated controls, suggesting that safety events reflect the natural history of cirrhosis and are not related to treatment.”

Hepatology 2015; 62: 773-83. This study found that “NAFLD is independently associated with subclinical myocardial remodeling and dysfunction.”

Bruce Munro, Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Bruce Munro, Atlanta Botanical Gardens

What’s Going on with Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B?

Despite the excitement regarding Hepatitis C, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B remain important challenges. Here’s the latest:

1. Collier MG, et al. “Hepatitis A Hospitalizations in United States, 2002-2011” Hepatology 2015; 61: 481-85. The authors examined the changes in demographics and frequency of HAV hospitalization during the study period. Key findings:

  • Rates of hospitalization dropped from 0.72/100,000 to 0.29/100,000.
  • Average age of hospitalized patient increased from 37.6 years to 45.5 years and more comorbidities were noted.
  • No changes were noted in length-of-stay or in-hospital deaths

2. DiBisceglie AM et al. “Recent US Food and Drug Administration Warnings on Hepatitis B Reactivation with Immune-Suppressing and Anticancer Drugs: Just the Tip of the Iceberg?” Hepatology 2015; 61: 703-11. Key recommendation: “There is good evidence to support routine screening of all patients for hepatitis B prior to undergoing chemotherapy or immunosuppressive treatment; use of prompt antiviral treatment appears to diminish the risk of severe or fatal reactivation of hepatitis B. Different organizations suggest disparate screening recommendations (Table 4).  AASLD suggests HBsAg, and anti-HBc.  CDC suggests adding anti-HBs.

3. Reddy KR, et al. Gastroenterology 2015; 148: 215-19, technical review 221-44.  AGA Guideline on the Prevention and Treatment of HBV Reactivation During Immunosuppressive Therapy. Key Recommendations:

  • Screen patients with HBsAg and anti-HBc, followed by a sensitive HBV DNA test if positive
  • Treat at-risk patients with antivirals with high barrier to resistance for at least 6 months after discontinuation of immunosuppressive therapy (except in patients taking B cell depleting agents who it is recommended to treat for at least 12 months afterwards)

Reactivation risk: (For all of the specifics — Full text article link)

  • High risk of reactivation (>10%): B cell depleting agents (eg. rituximab, ofatumumab), anthracycline derivatives (eg. doxorubicin, epirubicin), and daily moderate to high dose steroids (>10 mg) for at least 4 weeks.
  • Moderate risk of reactivation (1-10%): anti-TNF therapy, integrin inhibitors (eg. ustekinimab, vedolizumab), tyrosine kinase inhibitors, low-dose steroids daily (<10 mg/day) for at least 4 weeks (if HBsAg-positive but not if only anti-HBc-positive)
  • Low risk of reactivation (<1%): azathiopurine, 6-mercaptopurine, methotrexate.  No antiviral prophylaxis required.

For those interested in a more detailed summary of the recommendations: AGA Website HBV Reactivation Recommendations

4. Corsa AC et al. “No Resistance to Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate Through 96 Weeks of Treatment in Patients with Lamivudine-Resistant Chronic Hepatitis B. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 2106-12.  This study followed 280 patients–no resistance to tenofovir was observed.

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