Hepatitis B and rheumatic disease 4.5/5 (2)

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Chronic viral infection (Hepatitis B virus: HBV) of the liver. Transmitted via blood, sperm or vaginal fluid. Hepatitis B is not a classic "Opportunistic infection”, But it is important to consider before starting treatment with immunosuppressive drugs for rheumatic disease. Chronic Hepatitis B infection occurs when the virus (HBsAg) is detected in the body over 6 months or longer.

Hepatitis B is most common in Asia and Africa. About. 1/3 of the world's population is infected with Hepatitis B. After injecting with infected blood, 10-30% of the disease is transmitted.

  • A latent (dormant) Hepatitis B infection can flare up if rheumatic disease is treated with drugs that significantly reduce the immune system, such as biological drugs (Reference: The Nard F, 2015)


About 30% does not notice symptoms

  • Acute sickness: Influenza-like symptoms with fatigue, hepatitis (elevated "liver enzymes" in blood samples in 30%), nausea and vomiting. Most (90%) recover within 4 months
  • Chronic Illness: Among 3-5% of those infected, the disease becomes chronic. Gradually develops approx. 15% liver damage (liver fibrosis, cirrhosis). After many years, liver cancer (Hepatocellular cancer) diagnosed in some cases. Chronic hepatitis B infection is the cause of approx. 50% of liver cancer cases
  • Rheumatic symptoms (please see the next section)

Rheumatic symptoms of Hepatitis B

Antibody against Hepatitis B in blood samples

  • HBsAs (Antibody to Hepatitis B) is a marker for undergone disease. The antibody is also detected in subjects vaccinated against Hepatitis B
    • Vaccinated persons: HBsAg (antigen) and HBc are normal / negative. Normal liver enzyme (ALT, AST, G-Gt)
  • Anti HBc antibody occurs throughout the course of hepatitis B. Anti HBc antibody indicates that the person has been in contact with the hepatitis B virus sometime. The infection may have passed. (Not to be confused with HBc-antigens which is located intracellularly (inside the cells) and do not appear in blood serum)
  • HBsAg (antigen) can be detected in the blood when the infection is active and requires treatment
  • Anti-HBe-antigens The blood is associated with disease activity and infectivity
  • With "negative (or no) antibodies" in the blood, however, latent viral infection can persist in liver cells. With immunosuppression (with drugs) Hepatitis B can be reactivated and disease can occur. If previous infection is suspected, HBV DNA can be tested by PCR technique before any anti-rheumatic treatment with rituximab or others Biological drugs or others immunosuppressive drugs

Interpretation of antibody tests by Hepatitis B

  • Never infected: HBsAg - / HBsAs - / HBc -
  • Vaccinated: HBsAg - / HBsAs + / HBc -
  • Previously undergone infection with low disease risk: HBsAg - / HBsAs + / HBc + (Follow up ALAT and HBV DNA)
  • Previously undergone infection with moderate disease risk: HBsAg - / HBsAs - / HBc + (measure HBV DNA)
  • Chronic infection: HBsAg +/ HBsAs - / HBc + (Treatment Indication)

Almost all infections with Hepatitis B remain latent (viruses remain in the cells). By Biological treatment 20-50% will receive reactivation, especially after rituximab. Check all current blood tests for hepatitis B before treatment begins.

Prevent infection

Vaccine if increased risk is expected

Medical examination with blood samples

  • Hepatitis B antibody (HBsAs, HBc)
  • Hepatitis Bs antigen (HBsAg)
  • By positive findings


PEGylert interferon and other antiviral agents, but many are non-responders.


Opportunistic infections, BINDEVEVSSYKDOMMER.no

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