Surface antigen-negative hepatitis B virus infection in Dutch blood donors
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Hepatitis B virus (HBV) surface antigen (HBsAg) is a reliable marker for HBV infection, but HBsAg-negative forms of HBV infection occur. The introduction of HBV DNA screening of Dutch blood donors, which were not preselected for absence of HBV core antibodies, enabled the characterization of HBsAg-negative HBV infection in healthy persons and a comparison of the HBV genomes involved. The screening of 4.4 million Dutch blood donations identified 23 HBsAg-negative, HBV DNA-positive persons. Serological testing of the index donations, follow-up samples and archived earlier samples was performed to determine the nature of each HBV DNA-only case. Despite low viral loads HBV DNA could be sequenced in 14 out of 23 donors, allowing HBV genotyping and the analysis of mutations in the HBV surface gene. Four types of HBsAg-negative HBV infection were detected: infection in the early stage before occurrence of HBsAg; suppressed infection after vaccination; HBV genotype G infection with decreased HBsAg production; and chronic occult (HBsAg negative) HBV infection. In the donors with occult HBV genotype D infection the HBV surface gene showed multiple “escape” mutations in the HBsAg a-determinant and CTL epitopes, while in an occult genotype A case the surface gene showed no mutations. HBsAg-negative forms of HBV infection in healthy blood donors explain the ongoing transmission of HBV via blood transfusion, if donor screening is limited to HBsAg. The screening of blood donors for HBV DNA and HBV core antibodies seems to cover all stages and variants of HBV infection.
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