Incidence of hepatitis B virus reactivation in patients with resolved infection on immunosuppressive therapy for rheumatic disease: a multicentre, prospective, observational study in Japan

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Although the reactivation of hepatitis B virus (HBV) is recognised as a serious complication in patients with rheumatic disease (RD) receiving immunosuppressive drugs (ISDs), the incidence and risk factors for reactivation remain controversial.


To investigate the incidence and risk factors for HBV reactivation in patients with RD.


We performed a multicentre, observational, prospective study over 2 years in patients with resolved HBV infection. Patients with RD treated with a dose of ≥5 mg/day prednisolone and/or synthetic or biological ISDs with negative HB virus surface antigen and positive anti-HB virus surface antibody (HBsAb) and/or anti-HB virus core antibody (HBcAb) were enrolled. Quantitative HBV DNA results and related data were regularly recorded.


Among 1042 patients, including 959 with rheumatoid arthritis, HBV DNA was detected in 35 (1.93/100 person-years), with >2.1 log copies/mL observed in 10 patients (0.55/100 person-years). None of the reactivated patients, including seven treated with a nucleic acid analogue, showed overt hepatitis. Low HBsAb titres and advanced age seemed to be risk factors for HBV reactivation; however, reactivation was observed in three patients with positive HBsAb and negative HBcAb test results. The risk of reactivation was lower with methotrexate but higher with prednisolone among the different types of ISDs. The intervals from the start of ISD to reactivation were relatively long (3–182 months; median, 66 months).


The incidence of HBV reactivation with ISD use was 1.93/100 person-years in patients with RD with resolved HBV infection. No overt hepatitis was observed in the reactivated patients.

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