1Liver Diseases Branch, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.
2Department of Infectious Diseases, Molecular Virology, University Hospital Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.
3German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) - Heidelberg Partner Site, Heidelberg, Germany.
Hepatitis D virus (HDV) was first described in 1977 and is dependent on the presence of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) for its entry into cells and on the human host for replication. Due to the envelopment with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) envelope, early phases of HDV entry resemble HBV infection. Unlike HBV, HDV activates innate immune responses. The global prevalence of HDV is estimated to be about 5% of HBsAg positive individuals. However, recent studies have described a wide range of prevalence between 12 to 72 million individuals. Infection can occur as super-infection or co-infection. The diagnosis of active HDV infection involves screening with anti HDV antibodies followed by quantitative PCR testing for HDV RNA in those who are HBsAg positive. The diagnostic studies have evolved over the years improving the validity and reliability of the tests performed. HDV infection is considered the most severe form of viral hepatitis and the HDV genotype may influence the disease course. There are eight major HDV genotypes with prevalence varying by geographic region. HDV treatment has been challenging as HDV strongly depends on the host cell for replication and provides few, if any viral targets. Better understanding of HDV virology has led to the development of several therapeutic agents currently being studied in different phase II and III clinical trials. There is increasing promise of effective therapies that will ameliorate the course of this devastating disease.