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Is there a link between hepatitis and rheumatoid arthritis?

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY. Hungarian medical researchers have raised the intriguing possibility that there may be a link between the hepatitis-B virus and rheumatoid arthritis. They cite as evidence the following:

  • At least 20 patients have developed rheumatoid arthritis after being vaccinated with a recombinant hepatitis-B surface vaccine (rHBsAg).
  • The prevalence of markers for hepatitis-B infection was found to be 20 times greater in rheumatoid arthritis patients than in a comparable healthy Danish population.
  • In Hungary 5 per cent of a group of rheumatoid arthritis patients was found to have HBV markers as compared to 0.6 per cent in the general population.
  • Polyarthritis (a precursor to rheumatoid arthritis) is a well-established side effect of an acute hepatitis-B infection.

The researchers believe that rheumatoid arthritis, in many cases, may be caused by a hepatitis-B infection and therefore may be treatable with antiviral therapy. However, they do not discount the possibility that it may be the other way around, i.e. that rheumatoid arthritis patients are more susceptible to hepatitis-B infections and may be more at risk due to their greater exposure to injections, blood sampling, etc.
Csepregi, Antal, et al. Rheumatoid arthritis and hepatitis B virus: evaluating the pathogenic link. Journal of Rheumatology, Vol. 28, March 2001, pp. 474-77 [49 references]

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