OBJECTIVE: Individuals with chronic hepatitis C who are anti-HBc positive may carry an occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection that can affect their response to antiviral therapy. METHODS: In this study the prevalence of anti-HBc and HBV-DNA positivity was assessed in the serum and liver of 285 HCV-RNA-positive subjects treated with interferon-α at 5 mU/day for 12 months. The response to interferon (normal ALT and undetectable serum HCV-RNA) was evaluated at three different endpoints: 1) after 6 months; 2) at the end of treatment; and 3) 6 months after interferon discontinuation. RESULTS: Ninety individuals were anti-HBc positive (32%), 2 of these were HBV-DNA positive in serum and 7 in liver (8%). None of the anti-HBc-negative individuals was HBV-DNA positive in serum or liver. The prevalence of cirrhosis was greater in the anti-HBc-positive group than in the anti-HBc-negative group (p < 0.05), whereas HCV-RNA levels were lower. Anti-HBc-positive individuals had a lower response rate to interferon at 6 months and at the end of treatment as compared to anti-HBc-negative subjects (respectively 42% vs 66%, p < 0.01; and 32% vs 57%, p < 0.01). No difference between the two groups in terms of sustained response was detected 6 months after interferon discontinuation. CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of anti-HBc is high among HCV-positive individuals. HCV-positive individuals who are anti-HBc positive have: 1) a higher prevalence of cirrhosis; 2) lower HCV-RNA levels; and 3) an impaired ability to respond to interferon treatment. (C) 2000 by Am. Coll. of Gastroenterology.
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