Hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion in chronic hepatitis B virus infection confers a favorable prognosis, but untoward outcomes may develop in some patients. The impact of the age of HBeAg seroconversion on prognosis is not clearly known. HBeAg-positive patients with biopsy-proven chronic hepatitis B were followed up long-term. Follow-up studies included liver biochemistry, alpha-fetoprotein, and ultrasonography every 3 to 6 months or more frequently if clinically indicated. Of the patients who underwent spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion, the incidences of HBeAg-negative hepatitis, cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and hepatitis B surface antigen seroclearance were compared between patient groups with different ages at the time of HBeAg seroconversion using Kaplan-Meier survival analysis and Poisson regression model. Spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion was documented in 508 patients. Of the 483 patients who had no evidence of cirrhosis or HCC at the time of HBeAg seroconversion, HBeAg seroconversion occurred before age 30 in 218 patients (group A), between age 31 and 40 in 199 patients (group B), and after age 40 in 66 patients (group C). The 15-year cumulative incidences of HBeAg-negative hepatitis, cirrhosis, and HCC increased with increasing age of HBeAg seroconversion, the lowest being in group A (31.2%, 3.7%, and 2.1%, respectively) and highest being in group C (66.7% [P < 0.0001], 42.9% [P <0.0001], and 7.7% [P = 0.29], respectively). The hazard ratio of HBeAg-negative hepatitis, cirrhosis, and HCC was 2.95, 17.6, and 5.22, respectively, in group C compared with group A.
Conclusion: Patients with HBeAg seroconversion before age 30 have excellent prognosis, whereas patients with delayed HBeAg seroconversion after age 40 have significantly higher incidences of HBeAg-negative hepatitis, cirrhosis, and HCC.