The pathogenesis of posttransfusion hepatitis was determined in 14 children with β-thalassemia. All had blood samples obtained in 1980 or 1981, were vaccinated against hepatitis B virus in 1983 and had another serum sample collected in 1989. Seven children had detectable antibodies against hepatitis C virus before vaccination, and all were positive in 1989. With specific solid-phase enzyme immunoassays, all children had antibodies against hepatitis B virus, X and polymerase antigens in 1981, and six had one or both antibodies in 1989. Hepatitis B virus infection was confirmed by means of polymerase chain reaction, which demonstrated virus DNA in 13 of the 14 children. The amplification products spanning the X/precore region were smaller than expected, suggesting mutations in this region. Cloning and sequencing of these products revealed deletions spanning part or all of the X gene. The results show that these children were infected with hepatitis B virus even without other markers in serum, that hepatitis B persists years after vaccination and that such infections are associated with the presence of X deletion mutants. Coinfection with hepatitis B and C viruses, the former containing a new class of variants, is common in children with β-thalassemia. (Hepatology 1994;19:558–568).
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