When Can You Safely Stop Nucleos(t)ide Treatment for Hepatitis B? & Reassessment of Ventilator Success for COVID-19

A recent commentary (KS Liem et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 158: 1185-90) reviews the challenge of stopping nucleos(t)ide (NUC) treatment for chronic hepatitis B viral (HBV) infection.

Key points:

  • NUC therapy “prevents liver failure, decreases the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, and has excellent safety”
  • Yet, there are “low rates of on-therapy functional cure” which is indicated by loss of HBV surface antigen [HBsAg]
  • Divergent recommendations: Guidelines “recommend NCU therapy in noncirrhoitic patients can be stopped after >3 years of virologic suppression (EASL), after ≥1 year of undetectable HBV DNA and 2 years of treatment (APASL), or only after achieving HBsAg loss (AASLD)
  • “Relapse is highly variable, but is especially dangerous in patients with stage 3 fibrosis or cirrhosis”
  • “Hepatic decompensation is relatively rare but is best prevented by continuing NUC therapy in all cirrhotics or those with advanced fibrosis.”
  • In a randomized controlled trial in Canada, 72 weeks after NUC discontinuation, “only 33% of pretreatment HBeAg-negative patients had a sustained off-treatment response.”
  • “The major guidelines suggest that noncirrhotic pretreatment HBeAg-positive patients can stop NUC therapy after reaching HBeAg seroconversion with undetectable HBV DNA and completing 1-3 years of consolidation therapy…these recommendations are of poor quality.”
  • Three issues need to be studied: retreatment criteria in those who stop NUC therapy, biomarkers to distinguish beneficial from detrimental flares, and better criteria for identifying those who are likely to decompensate.

My take: It is hard to argue with the author’s conclusion that “without the tools for proper patient selection, potential benefits of NUC discontinuation do not outweigh limitations of long-term NUC therapy for most patients in clinical practice.”  This is due to the safety of NUC therapy and the frequency of relapse when NUC is stopped.

Related blog posts:


From NPR: New Evidence Suggests COVID-19 Patients On Ventilators Usually Survive

An excerpt:

A study of some New York hospitals seemed to show a mortality rate of 88%. But Cooke and others say the New York figure was misleading because the analysis included only patients who had either died or been discharged. “So folks who were actually in the midst of fighting their illness were not being included in the statistic of patients who were still alive,” he says….

The mortality rate among 165 COVID-19 patients placed on a ventilator at Emory was just under 30%. And unlike the New York study, only a few patients were still on a ventilator when the data were collected.

Curbside Humor:

Also: What do you get from a pampered cow? Spoiled milk!