Objective: To assess the safety of anti-tumor necrosis factor alpha (anti-TNFalpha) therapy on the course of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in carriers of antibodies to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) affected by chronic inflammatory arthropathies.
Methods: From January 2001 to December 2008, HBV markers were determined before the first administration of anti-TNFalpha agents in all 732 patients affected by inflammatory arthropathies treated with anti-TNFalpha at 2 outpatient rheumatologic clinics in Northern Italy. Anti-HBc-positive patients were prospectively evaluated and HBV markers and HBV DNA were assessed every 6 months, in case of aminotransferase elevation, and at the end of the study.
Results: At the time of recruitment, 72 patients were anti-HBc carriers, 5 of whom were positive for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and not included in the study. The ratio of men:women was 26:41 and the mean +/- SD followup was 42.52 +/- 21.33 months. Of the patients, 25 were treated with infliximab, 23 with etanercept, and 19 with adalimumab. Fifty-one patients were treated also with methotrexate, 52 with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, and 43 with prednisone (3 with a dosage >7.5 mg/day). All anti-HBc patients were HBV DNA negative at the first observation. During followup, no patient presented HBV reactivation with viral load increase and no patient became HBsAg positive.
Conclusion: Anti-HBc positivity in HBsAg-negative patients is a sign of previous HBV infection and does not indicate chronic hepatitis. In these patients, anti-TNFalpha therapy appears to be quite safe, as no HBV reactivation was found in our study. Nevertheless, careful monitoring is necessary.