Delta hepatitis: molecular biology and clinical and epidemiological features.


Polish LB, Gallagher M, Fields HA




Clin Microbiol Rev


Hepatitis delta virus, discovered in 1977, requires the help of hepatitis B virus to replicate in hepatocytes and is an important cause of acute, fulminant, and chronic liver disease in many regions of the world. Because of the helper function of hepatitis delta virus, infection with it occurs either as a coinfection with hepatitis B or as a superinfection of a carrier of hepatitis B surface antigen. Although the mechanisms of transmission are similar to those of hepatitis B virus, the patterns of transmission of delta virus vary widely around the world. In regions of the world in which hepatitis delta virus infection is not endemic, the disease is confined to groups at high risk of acquiring hepatitis B infection and high-risk hepatitis B carriers. Because of the propensity of this viral infection to cause fulminant as well as chronic liver disease, continued incursion of hepatitis delta virus into areas of the world where persistent hepatitis B infection is endemic will have serious implications. Prevention depends on the widespread use of hepatitis B vaccine. This review focuses on the molecular biology and the clinical and epidemiologic features of this important viral infection.