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Transfus Clin Biol. 2004 Feb;11(1):18-25.

Occult hepatitis B virus infection.

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  • 1Division of Transfusion Medicine, Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge Blood Centre, Long Road, Cambridge CR2 2PT, UK.


The detection of HBV DNA without HBsAg with or without the presence of HBV antibodies outside the acute phase window period defines occult HBV infection. This condition has been described in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), chronic hepatitis B, healthy HBV carriage and recovered infection, chronic hepatitis C and individuals without serological markers of HBV. The frequency of the diagnosis depends on the relative sensitivity of both HBsAg and HBV DNA assays. It also depends on the prevalence of HBV infection in the population. Occult HBV in blood donors has a wide range of potential origins within the natural history of the infection. It may originate from recovered infections with anti-HBs and persistent, low-level, viral replication, escape mutants undetected by the HBsAg assays or healthy chronic carriage. The last situation is mostly found with anti-HBc only. Over time, antibody markers may become undetectable leaving HBV DNA as the only marker of the infection. In all cases, the viral load is low, mostly below 10(4) IU/ml, often below 100 IU/ml. At these levels, nucleic acid testing (NAT) in pools is likely to be largely ineffective. Is occult HBV transmissible by transfusion? Carriers of anti-HBs or anti-HBc only were shown infectious in immunosuppressed organ or bone marrow transplant recipients. In immunocompetent recipients, there is no evidence that anti-HBs-containing components are infectious, even in low titre. Donations carrying anti-HBc only and HBV DNA can be infectious and this is a threat where anti-HBc is not screened. Anti-HBc screening identifies most occult HBV infection but not all. HBV NAT needs either extreme sensitivity or to be performed on individual donations to eliminate HBV DNA-containing units.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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