BACKGROUND/AIMS: Spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion occurs frequently in the immune reactive phase in HBeAg-positive chronic hepatitis B (CHB). Therefore, observation for 3-6 months before commencing antiviral therapy is recommended in patients with alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels that exceed twice the upper limit of normal (ULN). However, HBeAg seroconversion occurs infrequently in patients infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype C. The aim of the present study was to determine whether the waiting policy is necessary in endemic areas of HBV genotype C infection. METHODS: Ninety patients with HBeAg-positive CHB were followed prospectively without administering antiviral therapy for 6 months. Antiviral therapy was initiated promptly at any time if there was any evidence of biochemical (i.e., acute exacerbation of HBV infection or aggravation of jaundice) or symptomatic deterioration. After 6 months of observation, antiviral therapy was initiated according to the patient's ALT and HBV DNA levels. RESULTS: Only one patient (1.1%) achieved spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion. Biochemical and symptomatic deterioration occurred before 6 months in 17 patients (18.9%) and 5 patients, respectively. High ALT and HBV DNA levels were both independent risk factors for biochemical deterioration. Of 15 patients with HBV DNA > or =5.1x107 IU/mL and ALT > or =5xULN, biochemical deterioration occurred in 7 (46.7%), including 1 patient receiving liver transplantation due to liver failure. CONCLUSIONS: Spontaneous HBeAg seroconversion in patients with HBeAg-positive CHB is rare within 6 months. Biochemical deterioration was common and may lead to liver failure. Immediate antiviral therapy should be considered, especially in patients with high ALT and HBV DNA levels in endemic areas of genotype C infection.