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Tag Archives: entecavir

When Can Hepatitis B Patients Stop Taking Antivirals? Experts Finally Have Some Answers

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

With the help of antivirals, many patients today have undetectable viral load (HBV DNA), a relatively healthy liver and cleared the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg). So when can they consider stopping their daily entecavir or tenofovir pill?

For years, experts have admitted the endgame of antiviral treatment has been “ill-defined.” While antivirals reduce viral load and the risk of liver damage, they rarely cure people. Recently, after years of observing patients and with the help of better diagnostic tools, experts are getting better at identifying when might be safe to stop.

Historically, in addition to reducing viral load to undetectable levels, the goals of antiviral treatment were:

  • Triggering HBeAg seroconversion: About 21 percent of HBeAg-positive patients with liver damage treated with either tenofovir or entecavir for 12 months are able to lose the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg) and develop the “e” antibody (HBeAb). This HBeAg “seroconversion” indicates the immune system is fighting the infection and slowing viral replication.
  • And reducing liver damage and even clearing the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg): About 1-3 percent of patients treated with antivirals lose HBsAg after years of treatment. This is called a “functional cure.” Unfortunately, if you have HBeAg-negative hepatitis B, only 1-2 percent of you will lose HBsAg after five to eight years of antiviral treatment.*

If you are among the lucky few who achieve HBeAg seroconversion or clear HBsAg, when is it safe to stop your daily antiviral? Here are the newest guidelines detailing when it may be safe to stop from the 2017 European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL).

Image courtesy of Taoty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Taoty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When is it safe to stop antivirals after you’ve achieved HBeAg seroconversion? Stop too early, and HBeAg can reappear. EASL recommend non-cirrhotic patients who experience HBeAg seroconversion and continue to have undetectable HBV DNA for 12 months longer can stop antivirals, as long as there is frequent monitoring after.

When is it safe to stop if you have HBeAg-negative hepatitis B and have undetectable viral load after years of antiviral treatment? EASL guidelines say non-cirrhotic, HBeAg-negative patients who have had at least three years of antiviral treatment, undetectable viral load and no signs of liver damage can stop treatment, as long as there is frequent follow-up monitoring.

When is it safe to stop antivirals if you’ve lost HBsAg? EASL recommends stopping antivirals after losing HBsAg, even if a patient does not develop the hepatitis B surface antibody (HBsAb). Recently, experts have decided that patients who lose HBsAg may be “functionally” cured, even if no surface antibodies appear.

Researchers also have a new way to determine if it’s safe for patients who had HBeAg seroconversion to stop antivirals – by measuring their HBsAg levels. The lower your HBsAg levels, the more likely you are to maintain HBeAg seroconversion after you stop antivirals.

For example, patients may be HBeAg-negative and have no signs of liver damage, but if their HBsAg levels remain high, these patients remain at risk of reactivation and should continue antiviral treatment. (Read more about HBsAg quantification testing here.)

These antiviral “stopping rules” are still in development and are still frustratingly vague for many patients, but slowly researchers are developing tools and compiling more research in order to develop better guidelines when it’s safe to stop the daily antiviral treatment plan.

 *The statistics and recommendations cited are found at EASL2017 Clinical Practice Guidelines.

Do You Forget Your Daily Hepatitis B Antiviral? Why We “Forget” Our Meds, and How to Improve Compliance

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

Your daily antiviral pill can save your life when you have liver damage from chronic hepatitis B. Entecavir or tenofovir (Viread) quickly reduce the amount of virus in your liver and the damage it causes.

All you have to do is take it. Every day. But 20 to 30 percent of prescriptions are never filled, and about 50 to 70 percent of us don’t take our medications as prescribed. When we stop taking our daily antiviral, hepatitis B can reactivate and threaten our health.

In one study, researchers provided 100 hepatitis B patients with an entecavir pill dispenser that monitored whether or not they took their daily pill over a 16-week period. They found about 70 percent of patients took their antiviral pill as prescribed more than 80 percent of the time — which means these patients were “medication compliant.”

Those who missed taking their antivirals more than 20 percent of the time–and were “noncompliant”–tended to be younger and had indifferent attitudes about whether or not the antiviral was really needed or would work.

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to experts, whether we are “medication compliant” or not depends on how much trust we have in our doctors. If we like our healthcare provider and feel comfortable asking questions, we’re much more likely to take our medication on time. And, if our friends and family support and encourage us, we’re even more inclined to take our medication as prescribed.

“The trust I have in my doctor is a big factor,” said a member of the Hepatitis B Support List. “It is important to find a doctor who understands hepatitis B and is willing to work with me in terms of explaining what the options are and what the best approach is in managing my condition.”

“I know antivirals won’t cure me,” another email list member wrote, “but I’m committed to staying healthy and productive as long as God permits.” Continue reading "Do You Forget Your Daily Hepatitis B Antiviral? Why We “Forget” Our Meds, and How to Improve Compliance"

Taking Antivirals Long-Term for Hepatitis B? Should You Worry About Bone Loss?

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

To prevent liver damage and cirrhosis and reduce the risk of liver cancer–especially in older patients who’ve had hepatitis B for decades–doctors often prescribe long-term antiviral treatment. But some antivirals cause minor bone loss, which poses a problem for older patients with osteoporosis.

According to experts, the risk of bone loss from long-term antiviral treatment is low, and in fact some antivirals do not cause any bone loss at all. But if you are starting antivirals at an older age, or if you have been on antivirals long-term, experts recommend you monitor your potassium and vitamin D levels and regularly test for bone loss in the hip area so you know if you are experiencing bone loss and need a calcium or vitamin D supplement. Continue reading "Taking Antivirals Long-Term for Hepatitis B? Should You Worry About Bone Loss?"

Can People with HBeAg-Negative Hepatitis B Ever Stop Taking Antivirals?

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Medical guidelines suggest that individuals with HBeAg-negative hepatitis B with signs of liver damage face an “indefinite” or even lifetime commitment to taking daily antiviral pills.

In this week’s blog, we explore when—if ever—individuals with hard-to-treat HBeAg-negative hepatitis B can ever stop taking antivirals.

First of all, what is HBeAg-negative hepatitis B? Many people infected with hepatitis B at birth and who remain infected into their 40s, 50s or 60s, develop HBeAg-negative hepatitis B. Researchers believe that over time the virus mutates to evade the immune system. Though individuals may have lost the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg) and developed the “e” antibody, this mutated virus develops the ability to keep replicating despite the loss of HBeAg. And this mutated virus is capable of putting people at higher risk of liver damage.

Generally, doctors recommend treatment to HBeAg-negative patients when their viral load exceeds 2,000 IU/ML and their ALT liver enzyme levels, which rise when liver cells are damaged, are even moderately elevated. (Normal ALT levels are less than 30 for men and 19 for women.)

The most common antiviral treatments are either entecavir (Baraclude) or tenofovir (Viread). These two are considered the most powerful at quickly reducing viral load (HBV DNA) and have a very low risk of causing drug resistance, which is critical considering the long-term treatment required by HBeAg-negative patients.

But can individuals with HBeAg-negative hepatitis B ever stop treatment? Antivirals are expensive, without insurance tenofovir costs about $1,000 a month and generic entecavir costs about $407 in the U.S. Additionally, long-term antiviral treatment can cause bone loss.

Late last year, hepatitis B experts with the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) tackled this question and reviewed recent studies that followed HBeAg-negative hepatitis B patients who stopped antivirals. They found that even when these patients enjoyed two years of undetectable viral load and normal ALT levels during treatment, when they stopped only half of them were able to maintain a low viral low (below 2,000 IU/mL) and normal ALT levels.

The risk of dangerous “flares” after stopping treatment, “requires careful weighing of potential for harm and benefit,” the experts wrote. This is important because many HBeAg-negative patients are older and more vulnerable to liver damage and cancer.

In their new recommendations, AASLD experts make clear their findings are “conditional” and the quality of evidence found in the studies they reviewed is “low.” However, this is what they tentatively recommend:

  • Stopping treatment, “may be considered in persons who have (lost) the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). However, there is currently insufficient evidence to definitively guide treatment decisions for such persons.”
  • And, anyone who stops antiviral therapy should be monitored every three months for at least one year to see if their viral load rebounds or if they have signs of liver damage, including ALT flares.

Given the knowledge-gap about the long-term health consequences of HBeAg-negative hepatitis B, more research with longer durations of monitoring are needed, experts recommended. “Alternative treatment strategies for patients on long-term antiviral therapy, such as adding or switching to (pegylated interferon), warrant further study,” they concluded.

 

I’ve Lost the Hepatitis B “e” Antigen (HBeAg), So When Can I Stop Treatment?

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eighteen years ago, doctors started treating hepatitis B patients with antivirals and today liver specialists have a wealth of knowledge about how these drugs stop the virus from replicating and reduce viral load. But one thing they’re still not certain about is when patients can safely stop taking their daily antiviral pill.

In this week’s blog, we’ll explore when experts think it’s safe for patients, who have lost the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg) during antiviral treatment, to stop . Next week, we’ll look at when it’s safe for patients who were already HBeAg-negative when they began antiviral treatment to stop.

Today, doctors prescribe one of two antivirals—either entecavir (Baraclude) or tenofovir (Viread). Among the antivirals developed since 1998, these two are considered the most powerful in quickly reducing viral load (HBV DNA) and they carry the lowest risk of drug resistance. Doctors usually prescribe antivirals when our viral load is elevated and we have sign of liver damage–indicated by elevated liver enzymes (ALT or SGPT).

Antivirals quickly knock down viral load, which in turn is believed to lower our risk of liver damage and cancer. But antivirals work for only as long as we take them. When we stop, the virus usually reactivates although this is very rarely fatal or results in a liver transplant. Studies show that at least 78 percent of people who stop antivirals have an increase in viral load, 44 percent have a rise in ALT levels indicating liver damage, and among those who lose HBeAg during treatment, at least 9 percent experienced a return of HBeAg.

But what about individuals who take antivirals for long periods and enjoyed years of undetectable viral load, no signs of liver damage, loss of HBeAg, and development of the “e” antibody? Can they stop? After all, antivirals are expensive. Without insurance, a month’s supply of tenofovir costs about $1,000 and generic entecavir costs about $407 in the U.S., not to mention possible side effects such as bone loss or reduced kidney function with tenofovir..

Late last year, hepatitis B experts from the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) tackled this question and reviewed recent studies that followed patients who stopped antivirals after losing HBeAg. They found no clear answers and made clear their recommendations were “conditional” because the quality of evidence found in the studies was “low.” But here is what they recommend for patients who lost HBeAg during antiviral treatment and now have normal ALT levels:

  • Experts “suggest” that adults who don’t have cirrhosis (severe liver scarring) who lost HBeAg and developed “e” antibodies may stop treatment after a minimum of 12 months of normal ALT levels and undetectable viral load.
  • However, they recommend a longer “consolidation” treatment period might be better to reduce patients’ risk of relapse and a return of HBeAg after treatment stops. They suggested that an alternative approach would be to stay on antivirals until patients lose the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg).

Decisions about how long to stay on antivirals require careful consideration of health risks and benefits, they wrote, including risks of relapse, liver damage, and liver cancer. Other considerations include the cost of treatment, the risk of developing drug resistance if people stop antivirals intermittently, and other side effects.

Anyone who stops taking antivirals, they advise, should be monitored frequently – at least every three months — for at least one year for liver damage and resurgence of viral load. Anyone with cirrhosis should continue treatment indefinitely because of their high risk of liver cancer.

For now, the message appears to error on the side of caution and continue on antivirals until you have cleared HBsAg for a prolonged period of time. Clearly this decision is one you must discuss carefully with your doctor.

In next week’s blog, we examine how long people who were HBeAg-negative when they started antivirals should remain on treatment.

Shop Carefully for the Best Insurance Plan When You Have Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the cost of health care and prescription drugs soaring, it’s important to choose health insurance carefully when you take hepatitis B medications and need frequent check-ups and lab tests.

In the next two months, Medicare recipients, people who get insurance through their jobs and consumers buying coverage through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will be selecting insurance plans during open enrollment.

If you take antivirals or interferon and have frequent lab tests and doctor visits, it’s important that you select the plan that:

  • Has your specialist or primary care doctor and lab in its network,
  • And offers the lowest copay for the drugs you need.

Continue reading "Shop Carefully for the Best Insurance Plan When You Have Hepatitis B"

HBV Journal Review – September 2014

ChrisKHBF is pleased to connect our blog readers to Christine Kukka’s monthly HBV Journal Review that she writes for the HBV Advocate. The journal presents the
 latest in hepatitis B research, treatment, and prevention from recent academic and medical journals. This month, the following topics are explored:

  • New Study Finds HBV Genotype E Responds Poorly to Entecavir
  • HBV Genotypes Help Tell the Human Story of Slavery in the Americas
  • Researchers Find Tenofovir Increases Hip Bone Loss in Older Patients
  • Decline in HBV RNA Indicates Who Loses HBeAg During Antiviral Treatment
  •  Shortened Vaccination Schedule May Get More Drug Users Immunized
  • Primary Care Doctors Rarely Screen Patients for Cirrhosis
  • Tenofovir or Telbivudine Recommended for Pregnant Women with High Viral Loads
  • Access to Healthy Food Vital for HBV Patients, but Many Live in Food “Deserts”
  • Scientists Create Viable Liver Cells in a Lab for HBV Research
  • Nerve Damage Prompts Warning Against Telbivudine-Interferon Combo Treatment

HBV Journal Review

September 1, 2014
Volume 11, Issue 9
by Christine M. Kukka

New Study Finds HBV Genotype E Responds Poorly to Entecavir
Experts know some hepatitis B virus (HBV) strains called genotypes respond better to interferon treatment than others, but now scientists are discovering that genotypes respond differently to antiviral treatment too.

HBV genotypes are found in different regions of the world and each evolved over centuries to have slightly different molecular make-ups with unique traits. Some carry a higher risk of liver damage and cancer, while other genotypes are less virulent.

In a recent study, Italian researchers compared how well patients with genotypes A, D and E fared after three years of treatment with the antiviral entecavir (Baraclude). All of the patients tested negative for the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg-negative). The scientists measured hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) levels and HBV DNA (viral load) every three months during the first year of treatment and then every six months over the study period.

They found the rates of HBsAg declines resulting from antiviral treatment varied markedly between genotypes. They extrapolated how many years of entecavir treatment each genotype required before a patient would clear HBsAg and achieve undetectable viral load.

HBV genotype A: It would take on average 15.6 years of entecavir treatment for an HBeAg-negative patient with HBV genotype A to lose HBsAg. This genotype is found in northern Europe, North America, India and southern Africa.

HBV genotype D: It would take 17 years for genotype D patients to lose HBsAg. This strain is found primarily in Russia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean region, and India.

HBV genotype E: This genotype, found in Central Africa, responded the most poorly to entecavir. Scientists estimated it would take 24.6 years for these patients to lose HBsAg, according to the report published in the August issue of the Journal of Medical Virology.

Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25131947

HBV Genotypes Help Tell the Human Story of Slavery in the Americas
Because HBV genotypes develop in specific regions around the world, their distribution around the world today can help tell the story of mass human migrations, including the enslavement and forced migration of millions of Africans to Brazil since the 1500s.

Read the HBV Journal Review in its entirety here. 

HBV Journal Review – April 2014

ChrisKHBF is pleased to connect our blog readers to Christine Kukka’s monthly HBV Journal Review that she writes for the HBV Advocate. The journal presents the
latest in hepatitis B research, treatment, and prevention from recent academic and medical journals. This month, the following topics are explored:

  • Despite Antiviral Treatment, Liver Cancer Risk Persists
  • Vitamin D Appears to Help Prevent Liver Cancer
  • Dandelions May Be the Next Best Herbal Treatment for Hepatitis B
  • Kidney Problems Are Prevalent with Hepatitis B Even Before Treatment Starts
  • HBV Genotype H Appears to Cause Immediate Chronic Infection in Adults
  • HBV Genotype E Has the Worst Response to Pegylated Interferon
  • Cancer-Causing YMDD Mutations Found Frequently in HBV Genotype C
  • High Iron Levels Found in Patients with Liver Failure
  • Vietnamese-Americans at High Risk of Undiagnosed Hepatitis B and C
  • Entecavir Performance Is Mediocre in Lamivudine-Resistant Patients
  • A Simple Platelet Count Test Could Be Best Indicator of Fibrosis

HBV Journal Review
April 1, 2014
Volume 11, no 4
by Christine M. Kukka

Despite Antiviral Treatment, Liver Cancer Risk Persists
Researchers have hoped that treating hepatitis B patients with antivirals would reduce both their viral loads and their liver cancer risk. However, a new study that followed 1,378 treated and 1,014 untreated patients over five years found antivirals did not reduce liver cancer rates as hoped.

The study tracked new liver cancer cases among patients infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) (average age 47, 65% male) who had been treated primarily with entecavir (Baraclude) for their high viral loads and liver damage. They compared that group’s liver cancer occurrence to those of patients whose “inactive” HBV infection did not require treatment.

Among the treated group, 70 patients (6.2%) developed liver cancer during the study period compared to only 11 (1.1%) in the untreated group. Notwithstanding  the ability of antivirals to reduce viral load, a life-long history of HBV infection and liver damage appeared to increase cancer risk, despite the reduction in viral load later in life.

What is especially disappointing is that liver cancer developed even in treated patients who had no history of cirrhosis (severe liver scarring) which increases cancer risk. Among the antiviral-treated patients:

  • • 20 of 223 HBeAg-negative patients who had cirrhosis at the start of treatment developed liver cancer.
  • • 15 of 316 HBeAg-negative patients who had no cirrhosis also developed liver cancer.
  • • Among the treated patients who developed liver cancer, 30 were positive for the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg) and 30 were HBeAg-negative.

How well the antiviral worked in patients also determined who remained cancer-free. Of the 246 patients who failed to achieve low or undetectable viral loads as a result of treatment, 36 (18.8%) patients developed liver cancer over the five-year study.

The risk of cancer was increased overall by male gender, underlying cirrhosis and older age in the treated group. Curiously, having high viral loads (HBV DNA) at the start of treatment did not appear to increase liver cancer risk.

The key message for doctors is that liver cancer risk remains despite a dramatic reduction in viral load, researchers noted. “…Patients on (antiviral) treatment that effectively suppressed viral replication are still at higher risk of liver cancer compared with patients with inactive stage chronic hepatitis B,” they concluded in the study published in the March issue of the journal Gut.

Persistent liver damage before the start of antiviral treatment, evidenced by elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels, may predispose patients to liver cancer, they also noted.

“The inactive group may have more intact immune response to HBV and therefore may also have entered the inactive stage early in life, with a shorter period of high viral replication and active hepatitis,” they wrote.

Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24615378

Vitamin D Appears to Help Prevent Liver Cancer
Recent studies show a diet rich in vitamin D can improve liver health in patients with hepatitis B. A new study from Emory University in Atlanta finds that people with high vitamin D levels have lower rates of liver cancer.

The researchers examined vitamin D levels and liver cancer risk among 520,000 participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition between 1992 and 2010.

Continue reading this review and additional HBV related reviews for March

Entecavir + Tenofovir Works Well for Hepatitis B Patients with Prior Treatment Failure

Published on Monday, 11 November 2013
Written by Liz Highleyman
HIVandHepatitis.com

A dual regimen of entecavir (Baraclude) plus tenofovir (Viread) for 48 weeks led to virological response and was generally well-tolerated as second-line therapy for chronic hepatitis B patients who had failed previous nucleoside/nucleotide treatment, according to a poster presentation at the 64th AASLD Liver Meeting last week in Washington, DC. Continue reading "Entecavir + Tenofovir Works Well for Hepatitis B Patients with Prior Treatment Failure"