Twenty nine children (mean age 8.3 years, 18 boys, 11 girls) who had biopsy proved chronic hepatitis B virus infection (HBV) with active viral replication were given a 16 week course of interferon alfa-2b treatment (9 million units (MU)/m2, thrice weekly). Fourteen children (48%) showed persistent loss of HBV-DNA 8 months after the end of treatment; 11 (38%) lost hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg), and two (7%) hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). Alanine aminotransferase activities returned to normal in 12 children. Those who responded had significantly higher initial transaminase activities than those who did not (p < 0.01) but similar serum HBV-DNA. Results were compared with the natural evolution of the disease in a group of 25 children (mean age 8.3 years) with identical initial mean serum HBV-DNA values, followed up during the same period. Two of these (8%) lost HBeAg and one (4%) HBsAg. The 23 remaining control subjects had no decrease in serum HBV-DNA or in transaminase activities compared with values 1 year earlier. It is concluded that treatment with interferon alfa-2b in children may lead to inhibition of HBV replication similar to that described in adults, and may thus shorten disease evolution. Further studies are necessary to establish the best protocols and to identify those patients who are the most likely to respond to treatment.
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