Two hundred and thirty-nine patients with different rheumatic diseases were investigated for serological markers of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. An increased prevalence of anti-HBs was found in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. The total prevalence of HBV markers in patients with polymyalgia rheumatica, temporal arteritis, juvenile and adult rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic sclerosis was not significantly different from age-matched controls. Remarkably, 6 patients were HBsAg-positive of whom 3 had RA (4%). Two patients with RA were "healthy' HBsAg carriers. The third patient had circulating HBeAg as well and had shown progression from acute hepatitis to cirrhosis during the time of observation. Three of 18 patients with polyarteritis nodosa were HBsAg- and HBeAg-positive, and all 3 were young men. Clinical improvement was seen in one of these patients and was associated with seroconversion from HBeAg to anti-HBe. Our data do not support the theory that HBV is an aetiological factor in rheumatic diseases except in some cases of polyarteritis nodosa.
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