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Wien Klin Wochenschr. 1997 Jan 17;109(1):20-4.

Rational use of polymerase chain reaction--based detection of viral genomes in patients with serologic markers of hepatitis B or C virus infection.

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Universitätsklinik für Innere Medizin IV, Wien, Austria.


We studied the value of additional diagnostic information obtained by detection of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA or hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA using the qualitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in patients with serologic markers of hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infection. In HBV infection, all HBsAg+HBeAg+ patients and all HBsAg+HBeAg- patients with alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels > 100 U/L were positive for HBV-DNA by PCR, whereas in HBsAg+HBeAg- patients with ALT < 100 U/L 58% and in HBsAg+HBeAg- patients with normal aminotransferase 45% were found to be positive. In HBsAg+ patients no further clinically useful information can be obtained by PCR as the presence of HBsAg proves infection. However in three of 42 (7%) patients with markers of past HBV infection (antiHBs and/or antiHBc+) HBV-DNA was detected in the serum. Similarly, in some patients with acute hepatitis B HBV-DNA was demonstrable up to four months after the disappearance of HBsAg from serum, pointing to persistence of viremia despite the loss of serological markers of ongoing HBV infection. Demonstrating ongoing HBV infection in patients with serological markers of past infection is valuable additional information in only selected patients. In HCV infection, 10% of anti-HCV+ patients with increased ALT levels had a negative serum HCV-RNA. However, in 20% of those patients HCV-RNA was demonstrated in a serum sample collected later during follow-up, indicating that a single negative HCV-RNA determination cannot be taken as evidence for the resolution of infection.

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