Serial serum samples from 110 patients with acute viral hepatitis type B were tested for HBsAg/IgM complexes by a newly developed solid-phase radioimmunoassay. In 102 patients the infection resolved and they recovered from the disease. In these patients, HBsAg/IgM complexes were either absent from the outset or disappeared from serum within four weeks of admission, long before HBsAg had cleared or serum alanine aminotransferase had returned to normal. 8 patients progressed to chronic HBsAg carrier state and chronic liver disease. In these patients, HBsAg/IgM complexes were detectable in the serum on admission, and never disappeared. These results indicate that persistence of circulating complexes containing HBsAg and IgM after the early phase of acute viral hepatitis type B is a predictor of disease chronicity. As early as the fifth week of illness those in whom chronic liver disease developed could be distinguished from those who recovered.
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