Asymptomatic chronic HBsAg carriers with normal liver function tests are, in general, regarded as having no liver pathology. Most of the histologic findings in asymptomatic chronic carriers have been reported from areas with low incidence of Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, such as North America and Western Europe. It is well known that there are many differences in HBV infection between low and high endemic areas, but there have been few reports on the histologic findings of asymptomatic chronic HBsAg carriers from endemic areas. The present study was undertaken in Korea which is one of the endemic areas for HBV infection and was designed to assess the prevalence of chronic liver disease by peritoneoscopic liver biopsy among asymptomatic chronic HBsAg carriers and to make a basis for the follow-up of asymptomatic chronic HBsAg carriers according to the results obtained. One hundred and ten asymptomatic HBsAg-positive carriers with normal liver function tests and no hepatomegaly were included in the study. Final diagnosis by peritoneoscopic liver biopsy revealed that of the 110 asymptomatic carriers only 27 (24.5%) had a historically normal liver, while 51 (46.4%) had chronic liver diseases, and the remaining 32 (29.1%) had nonspecific histologic abnormalities (nonspecific reactive changes in 18 cases, cholestasis in 6 cases, and fatty change in 8 cases). Of the 51 patients with chronic liver diseases, 3 had liver cirrhosis, 4 chronic active hepatitis with cirrhosis, 11 chronic active hepatitis and 33 chronic persistent hepatitis. The frequency of liver cirrhosis and chronic active hepatitis with cirrhosis was significantly high in the over 30 years of age group (12.1%) than in the under 30 years of age group (0%; p=0.011 by Fisher's exact test). In conclusion, 46.4% of the Korean asymptomatic chronic HBsAg carriers with normal liver function tests and no hepatomegaly had chronic liver disease. This finding contrasted with reports from low incidence areas of HBV infection. Our results suggest that in endemic areas, a liver biopsy should be considered to assess the status of liver disease in asymptomatic chronic HBsAg carriers even if liver function tests are normal and hepatomegaly is absent, and the result can be used as a basis for the follow-up of each asymptomatic chronic HBsAg carriers.
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