Low prevalence of liver disease but regional differences in HBV treatment characteristics mark HIV/HBV co-infection in a South African HIV clinical trial

BACKGROUND: Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is endemic in South Africa however, there is limited data on the degree of liver disease and geographic variation in HIV/HBV coinfected individuals. In this study, we analysed data from the CIPRA-SA 'Safeguard the household study' in order to assess baseline HBV characteristics in HIV/HBV co-infection participants prior to antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation. METHODS: 812 participants from two South African townships Soweto and Masiphumelele were enrolled in a randomized trial of ART (CIPRA-SA). Participants were tested for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg), and HBV DNA. FIB-4 scores were calculated at baseline. RESULTS: Forty-eight (5.9%) were HBsAg positive, of whom 28 (58.3%) were HBeAg positive. Of those with HBV, 29.8% had an HBV DNA<2000 IU/ml and ALT<40 IU/ml ; 83.0% had a FIB-4 score <1.45, consistent with absent or minimal liver disease. HBV prevalence was 8.5% in Masiphumelele compared to 3.8% in Soweto (relative risk 2.3; 95% CI: 1.3-4.0). More participants in Masiphumelele had HBeAg-negative disease (58% vs. 12%, p = 0.002) and HBV DNA levels ≤2000 IU/ml, (43% vs. 6% p<0.007). CONCLUSION: One third of HIV/HBV co-infected subjects had low HBV DNA levels and ALT while the majority had indicators of only mild liver disease. There were substantial regional differences in HBsAg and HbeAg prevalence in HIV/HBV co-infection between two regions in South Africa. This study highlights the absence of severe liver disease and the marked regional differences in HIV/HBV co-infection in South Africa and will inform treatment decisions in these populations.