Frequent chronic hepatitis B virus infection in HIV-infected patients positive for antibody to hepatitis B core antigen only. Swiss HIV Cohort Study.
Hofer M. Joller-Jemelka HI. Grob PJ. Luthy R. Opravil M.
Division of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology, University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland.
Persons with immune deficiency may present with atypical results in serological tests for hepatitis B virus (HBV). Frozen serum specimens that were sequentially obtained over time from a cohort of 57 HIV-infected patients, all of whom tested positive only for antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBcAg), were therefore retested for HBV markers, including HBV DNA. The results were assessed for their time course and correlated with clinical data and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) values. Forty-eight patients were male; intravenous drug users constituted the principal risk group (n = 30), followed by homosexual men (n = 22). Thirty-three persons tested positive for antibody to hepatitis C virus (anti-HCV). During a median of 31 months from the first to the last serum, anti-HBcAg remained the sole marker of HBV infection in 98.2% of the patients. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect DNA for HBV core and HBV surface gene was positive in 126 (62.4%) and 121 (59.9%) of all 202 serum samples, respectively. Over time, HBV DNA was detected at least once in 51 (89.5%) patients. In contrast, decomplexed hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) was detected at least once in 14 (24.6%) patients. Among patients positive for HBV DNA and negative for anti-HCV, eight (36.4%) of 22 had chronic hepatitis (ALT elevation > or = 6 months) that was attributable only to persisting HBV infection. Similarly, 12 (41.4%) of 29 patients positive for both HBV DNA and anti-HCV had chronic viral hepatitis, but their ALT values were significantly higher. In HIV-infected patients, anti-HBcAg as the sole serological HBV marker detected must be considered indicative of chronic HBV infection and is in part associated with chronic hepatitis and ALT elevation.