BACKGROUND : By NAT, HBV DNA is occasionally detectable in blood donors with past HBV infection but negative for HBsAg. Whether or not these donors can cause transfusion-transmitted HBV infections is uncertain.
STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS : To determine whether or not donors with past HBV infection but negative for HbsAg can cause HBV transfusion-transmitted infections, recipients followed for blood transfusion in a university medical center in Taiwan were studied. HBV DNA and serologic markers were tested in donors and recipients.
RESULTS : Of 1038 enrolled recipients, 910 completed the 6-month post-transfusion follow-up visit. Of these, only 39 patients (4.3%) tested negative on the pretransfusion sample for HBsAg, anti-HBs, anti-HBc, and HBV DNA by PCR. These 39 HBV-naive recipients had been transfused with blood from 147 donations for which stored samples were available for HBV DNA testing by PCR; 11 of these HBsAg-negative samples tested positive for HBV DNA and anti-HBc. Two of the 11 patients who received the HBV-DNA-positive donations (18%) became positive for HBV DNA, and one seroconverted to anti-HBc and finally to anti-HBs, with a mild transient elevation of serum ALT activities. Based on the one confirmed case of HBV transmission, a projection was made that approximately 200 post-transfusion HBV infections could occur in one million units of transfused blood in Taiwan.
CONCLUSIONS : In HBV-endemic areas like Taiwan, where blood donors are screened for HBsAg only, the risk of transfusion-transmitted HBV appears to be substantial. Implementation of NAT for blood screening in these settings warrants consideration.