Serological markers for hepatitis B virus infection have been examined in 34 patients with acute hepatitis B, 17 of whom developed fulminant hepatic failure. Hepatitis B surface antigen concentrations were significantly lower and hepatitis Be antigen was less frequently detectable in patients with fulminant hepatic failure compared with those with acute hepatitis (median 0.64 micrograms, range 16-0 and median 32 micrograms and range 100-4 micrograms respectively, p less than 0.001; HBeAg detected in 12% and 88% respectively, p less than 0.001). The IgM component of hepatitis B core antibody was significantly higher in the patients with fulminant hepatic failure with median values of 500 IU/ml compared with those with uncomplicated hepatitis (median 202 IU/ml, p less than 0.05 Wilcoxon's rank test). Three patients who developed a fulminant course had detectable levels of either anti-HBs or anti-HBe. These results are consistent with enhanced antibody responses to all three hepatitis B virus antigens and more rapid clearance of the latter during fulminant hepatic failure.
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