Reactivation of hepatitis B

Hepatology. 2009 May;49(5 Suppl):S156-65. doi: 10.1002/hep.22945.


Reactivation of hepatitis B refers to the abrupt increase in hepatitis B virus (HBV) replication in a patient with inactive or resolved hepatitis B. Reactivation can occur spontaneously, but more typically is triggered by immunosuppressive therapy of cancer, autoimmune disease, or organ transplantation. Reactivation can be transient and clinically silent, but often causes a flare of disease that can be severe resulting in acute hepatic failure. Most instances of reactivation resolve spontaneously, but if immune suppression is continued, re-establishment of chronic hepatitis occurs which can lead to progressive liver injury and cirrhosis. The best-described instances of reactivation occur in hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) carriers with inactive or minimally active disease who are given cancer chemotherapy for lymphoma or leukemia. Typically, serum HBV DNA rises during chemotherapy, followed by a disease flare and HBV DNA clearance with immune reconstitution after chemotherapy is stopped. Special forms of reactivation occur after solid organ and bone marrow transplantation in which chronic infection often results. Several randomized, placebo-controlled trials have shown that reactivation can be prevented by antiviral prophylaxis. Routine prophylaxis is therefore recommended for persons with HBsAg undergoing cancer chemotherapy or transplantation, but major questions remain. Which patients should be screened for HBsAg and should all be treated? Which antiviral should be used and for how long? Should persons with resolved hepatitis B without HBsAg receive prophylaxis? Future research should address the underlying molecular mechanisms of reactivation as well as its optimal means of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention in different patient populations.

Publication types

  • Consensus Development Conference, NIH
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / immunology*
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Recurrence
  • Transplants