Researchers studying differences in treatment initiation for chronic hepatitis B (CHB) among a large, multiracial cohort in North America did not find evidence of disparities by race or socioeconomic status.
That gap suggests that treatment guidelines need to be simplified and that efforts to increase hepatitis B virus (HBV) awareness and train more clinicians are needed to achieve the World Health Organization’s goal of eliminating HBV by 2030, the researchers write.
The Hepatitis B Research Network study was published online in JAMA Network Open.
The prevalence of CHB in the United States is estimated at 2.4 million. It disproportionately affects persons of Asian or African descent, the investigators note. Their study examined whether treatment initiation and outcomes differ between African American and Black, Asian, and White participants, as well as between African American and Black participants born in North America and East or West Africa.
The research involved 1,550 adult patients: 1,157 Asian American, 193 African American or Black (39 born in the United States, 90 in East Africa, 53 in West Africa, and 11 elsewhere), 157 White, and 43 who identified as being of “other races.” All had CHB but were not receiving antiviral treatment at enrollment.
Participants came from 20 centers in the United States and one in Canada. They underwent clinical and laboratory assessments and could receive anti-HBV treatment after they enrolled. Enrollment was from Jan. 14, 2011, to Jan. 28, 2018. Participants were followed at 12 and 24 weeks and every 24 weeks thereafter in the longitudinal cohort study by Mandana Khalili, MD, division of gastroenterology and hepatology, University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.
Information on patients’ country of birth, duration of U.S. or Canadian residency, educational level, employment, insurance, prior antiviral treatment, family history of HBV or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and mode of transmission were collected by research coordinators.
During the study period, slightly fewer than one-third (32.5%) of the participants initiated treatment. The incidences were 4.8 per 100 person-years in African American or Black participants, 9.9 per 100 person-years in Asian participants, 6.6 per 100 person-years in White participants, and 7.9 per 100 person-years in those of other races (P < .001).
A lower percentage of African American and Black participants (14%) met the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases treatment criteria, compared with Asian (22%) and White (27%) participants (P = .01).
When the researchers compared cumulative probability of initiating treatment by race for those who met criteria for treatment, they found no significant differences by race.
At 72 weeks, initiation probability was 0.45 for African American and Black patients and 0.51 for Asian and White patients (P = .68). Similarly, among African American and Black participants who met treatment criteria, there were no significant differences in cumulative probability of treatment by region of birth.
The cumulative percentage of treatment initiation for those who met guideline-based criteria was 62%.
“Among participants with a treatment indication, treatment rates did not differ significantly by race, despite marked differences in educational level, income, and type of health care insurance across the racial groups,” the researchers write. “Moreover, race was not an independent estimator of treatment initiation when adjusting for known factors associated with a higher risk of adverse clinical outcomes, namely, HBV DNA, disease severity, sex, and age.”
Adverse liver outcomes (hepatic decompensation, HCC, liver transplant, and death) were rare and did not vary significantly by race, the researchers write.
One study limitation is that participants were linked to specialty liver clinics, so the findings may not be generalizable to patients who receive care in other settings, the authors note.
The results are “reassuring,” said senior author Anna S. Lok, MD, division of gastroenterology and hepatology at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. However, she noted, study participants had already overcome barriers to receiving care at major academic centers.
“Once you get into the big academic liver centers, then maybe everything is equal, but in the real world, a lot of people don’t ever get to the big liver centers,” she said. The question becomes: “Are we serving only a portion of the patient population?”
Many factors drive the decision to undergo treatment, including the doctor’s opinion as to need and the patient’s desire to receive treatment, she said.
The study participants who were more likely to get treated were those with higher-level disease who had a stronger indication for treatment, Dr. Lok said.