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J Med Virol. 2007 Jan;79(1):45-51.

The prevalence of chromosomally integrated human herpesvirus 6 genomes in the blood of UK blood donors.

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Division of Infection and Immunity, Centre for Virology, Hampstead Campus, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, UK.


A lesser-recognized form of human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) persistence is integration of the viral genome in a host chromosome and high viral copy numbers in blood or sera are characteristic of this phenomenon. A cross-sectional study was performed to determine the frequency of high HHV-6 viral loads in whole blood (>6 log(10) copies/ml) in a population of blood donors in London, UK. Blood samples from 500 anonymized blood donors were collected from one donation center, DNA extracted, and quantitative realtime PCR used to measure viral load. Four samples (0.8%) were found to have high viral copy numbers of HHV-6 (median 6.7 log(10) copies/ml; range 6.5- 6.9 log(10) copies/ml). Cellular DNA was also quantitated using qRT-PCR for beta-globin. By comparing these two results, we calculated that there were between two and five copies of HHV-6 present per cell in these four donors. The median viral load detected in plasma from the four individuals was 3.8 log(10) copies/ml (range 3.5-4.0 log(10) copies/ml). All samples were HHV-6 variant B. In addition, a retrospective analysis of all diagnostic blood samples performed for HHV-6 in our center showed a prevalence of 2.9% of high viral loads characteristic of integration. In conclusion, high viral copy numbers of HHV-6, representing a population of viral integration, is detected in 0.8% of UK blood donors. The presence of high HHV-6 viral loads in healthy normal individuals reiterates the need to consider the confounding effect of HHV-6 viral integration in any laboratory diagnosis of HHV-6 infection.

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