Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBSAg) and antibodies to both the surface and core antigens of the hepatitis B virus (anti-HBS and anti-HBC) have been studied in 64 consecutive cases of fulminant hepatitis. HBSAg was detected by counterelectrophoresis in 23 (35-9%) but by radioimmunoassay in 38 (59-3%). Anti-HBS was detected by passive haemagglutination in 26 (40-6%), coexisting HBSAg and anti-HBS were found in 16 cases (25%).
Using an indirect immunofluorescence technique, anti-HBC was found in all of the cases in whom either HBSAg or anti-HBS was present. The highest survival rate was observed in patients with no evidence of HBV infection (31-3%) and was lowest in those who had both HBSAg and anti-HBS detected simultaneously (6-2%).
The prognosis of those who exhibited anti-HBS only was no better than those with HBSAg alone. In a further case, transient interruption of the asymptomatic chronic HBSAg carrier state with seroconversion to anti-HBS was associated with the development of a fulminant hepatitis syndrome.
The results suggest that an unusually strong and rapid immune clearance of HBSAg may be involved in the pathogenesis of fulminant hepatitis.