Occult hepatitis B virus infection in the setting of hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) co-infection: Clinically relevant or a diagnostic problem?



The clinical relevance of occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, defined as detectable HBV DNA serum/liver, in the absence of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), is unclear. We determined the prevalence of serum occult HBV infection in HIV/HCV co-infected patients enrolled in APRICOT, a randomized multinational trial that investigated the efficacy and safety of peginterferon alfa-2a (40 kDa) plus ribavirin for treatment of HCV. We also examined the effect of prior HBV exposure to liver histology at baseline. Only HBsAg-negative patients were eligible. At screening, serum HBV DNA was assessed by commercial assay (detection limit = 200 copies/mL). Patients were divided into four serological groups: anti-HBs+/anti-HBc+; anti-HBs−/anti-HBc+; anti-HBs+/ anti-HBc−; anti-HBs−/anti-HBc−. Baseline liver biopsy grade and stage were compared among groups. Serum HBV DNA was undetectable in all patients, (n = 866). Results of anti-HBs and anti-HBc was available for 176 patients: 60 (34.1%) anti-HBs+/anti-HBc+; 60 (34.1%) anti-HBs−/anti-HBc+; 11 (6.3%) anti-HBs+/anti-HBc−; 45 (25.6%) anti-HBs−/anti-HBc−. There were no differences among the groups in the histological grade or stage at baseline liver biopsies. Occult HBV infection in serum was not detected in this large immunocompetent cohort. Moreover, prior exposure to HBV did not appear to have any affect on baseline liver histology. J. Med. Virol. 79: 694–700, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.