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J Med Virol. 2014 Mar;86(3):478-83. doi: 10.1002/jmv.23827. Epub 2013 Nov 8.

Serological cross reactivity to CMV and EBV causes problems in the diagnosis of acute hepatitis E virus infection.

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Department of Virology, Royal Free Hospital, London, United Kingdom.


Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection is an important public health concern as a major cause of enterically-transmitted hepatitis worldwide. The detectable window of viraemia is narrow, and HEV IgM and IgG rise simultaneously in acute infection. Furthermore, previous investigators have shown HEV IgM false positive reactions occur against EBV, CMV and potentially hepatitis A. A retrospective analysis of HEV serology testing was performed at a London tertiary referral hospital over a 3-year period. A thousand four hundred and twenty three serum samples were tested for HEV serology, with 33 samples HEV IgM positive and 28 HEV IgM equivocal. One hundred and eleven samples were HEV IgG positive but IgM negative suggesting past infection. No patients with HEV IgM positivity had false positive reactions against hepatitis A. A high degree of EBV and CMV cross reactivity was noted, with 33.3% and 24.2% of HEV IgM positive samples also testing positive for EBV and CMV IgM, respectively. HEV RNA was detected in four HEV IgM positive samples, indicating true positivity, although three demonstrated cross reactivity against EBV. Only 13.3% of samples with positive HEV IgM were HEV PCR positive, highlighting a low positive predictive value of serology testing. Overall a high level of HEV, EBV and CMV IgM cross reactivity was demonstrated, indicating that serology is unreliable in the diagnosis of acute viral hepatitis. It is concluded that that the diagnosis of viral hepatitis should be based on clinical features, raised transaminases, serology, and confirmatory PCR testing.


Epstein-Barr virus; cytomegalovirus; hepatitis E virus; serology

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