The systematic screening of 253 children with transfusion-dependent homozygous beta-thalassaemia revealed a high incidence of hepatitis B virus markers. The highest frequencies of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) were found in the group of patients with the smallest number of transfusions, while the highest frequency of antibody to hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs) was detected in the patients who had had the largest number of transfusions. Follow-up of these patients showed (a) a high incidence of acute hepatitis B, which was mainly subclinical; (b) normal hepatitis B surface antigen clearance and normal antibody to hepatitis B surface development; and (c) a high frequency of increased transaminase values for over six months. In all the subjects with persistently high transaminase, histological examination revealed chronic persistent hepatitis or chronic active hepatitis. Apart from two cases of chronic active hepatitis with no B virus markers, and two cases of chronic persistent hepatitis with HBsAg and anti-HBc in the serum, all these subjects were anti-HBs positive but HGsAg and anti-HBc negative.
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