In an endemic area for chronic hepatitis B infection, reactivation of this virus is a serious cause of morbidity and mortality in patients undergoing cytotoxic or immunosuppressive therapy. Careful prospective serological testing has shown that hepatitis B virus reactivation is a two-staged process. The initial stage occurs during intense cytotoxic or immunosuppressive therapy and is characterised by enhanced viral replication, as reflected by increases in the serum levels of hepatitis B virus DNA, hepatitis B e antigen, hepatitis B virus DNA polymerase and infection of naïve hepatocytes with hepatitis B virus. The second stage is related to restoration of immune function following withdrawal of cytotoxic or immunosuppressive therapy, which causes rapid immune-mediated destruction of infected hepatocytes. Clinically, this can lead to hepatitis, hepatic failure and even death. The occurrence and severity of hepatitis B virus reactivation after various cytotoxic or immunosuppressive therapy is unpredictable and treatment has been disappointing, largely due to the late administration of therapy. Recently, pre-emptive treatment of chronic hepatitis B patients undergoing cytotoxic or immunosuppressive therapy, with potent nucleoside analogues has shown some promising results. Further controlled studies are needed to define the incidence and risk factors of hepatitis B reactivation so that pre-emptive treatment with nucleoside analogues could be administered to those patients at high risk of disease.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.