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J Med Virol. 2003 Aug;70(4):617-23.

Measurement of EBV-IgG anti-VCA avidity aids the early and reliable diagnosis of primary EBV infection.

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Serology Laboratory, SEALS, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, New South Wales, Australia.


Current serological methods for the diagnosis of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection still differentiate poorly between primary infection and reactivation. This is particularly true when IgG and IgM antibodies are present simultaneously and only a single serum sample is provided for analysis. The demonstration of the IgG avidity state has the potential to distinguish recent from past or reactivated infection. An analysis of the kinetics of avidity maturation of anti-VCA antibodies in primary EBV infection was undertaken with longitudinally collected sets of sera from 28 well-characterised EBV cases and in sera from 35 cases with previous EBV infection and recent primary infection due to HIV, CMV, or hepatitis A. Antibodies directed against the viral capsid antigen (VCA) and Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen (EBNA-1) were sought, using a commercial enzyme immunoassay (EIA). In parallel with standard IgG anti-VCA detection, serum was incubated with 8 M urea to disrupt low-avidity complexes to allow calculation of the percentage avidity. In cases with primary EBV infection, the mean avidity rose from 54% at 6 weeks to 82% by 28 weeks after the onset of symptoms, but remained lower than that of the control sera (96%). The addition of the avidity measurement improved the sensitivity of IgG and IgM anti-VCA testing in diagnosis of primary EBV infection from 93% to 100%. The specificity of IgM anti-VCA testing alone was poor, with 14 of 35 cases (49%) demonstrating false-positive results, but it improved to 97% by the demonstration of high-avidity IgG anti-VCA. The combination of negative IgG anti-EBNA and low-avidity IgG anti-VCA had a sensitivity and specificity of 100%. The routine addition of IgG anti-VCA avidity estimation to diagnostic EBV serology is recommended.

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