Occult hepatitis B

Lancet Infect Dis. 2002 Aug;2(8):479-86. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(02)00345-6.


Worldwide, chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is the primary cause of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma and is one of the ten leading causes of death. Traditionally, people with chronic HBV infection have been identified with blood tests for HBV antigens and antibodies. Recently, another group of patients with chronic HBV infection has been identified by sensitive, molecular testing for HBV DNA. Members of this group are often referred to as having occult hepatitis B because they are HBV-DNA positive, but hepatitis B surface antigen negative. Occult hepatitis B occurs in a number of clinical settings. In this review, we examine occult hepatitis B in people co-infected with hepatitis C, in whom occult hepatitis B has been associated with advanced fibrosis and diminished response to interferon alpha. Although much more research is needed, existing reports justify a heightened awareness of the medical importance and means of testing for occult hepatitis B.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • DNA, Viral / blood
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / blood
  • Hepatitis B virus / genetics
  • Hepatitis B virus / immunology
  • Hepatitis B virus / isolation & purification*
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic* / diagnosis
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic* / epidemiology
  • Hepatitis B, Chronic* / etiology
  • Hepatitis C / complications
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology


  • DNA, Viral
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens
  • Interferon-alpha