The diagnosis of acute hepatitis E infection is based on the detection of HEV RNA or specific IgM in immunocompetent patients. Viraemia and excretion of HEV RNA in faeces are not observed in all patients and commercial kits vary in their performance for anti-HEV IgM detection. Additional diagnostic tests must therefore be considered. The value of anti-HEV IgG avidity index for differentiating between acute infection and previous exposure to HEV in countries of low endemicity was investigated. 132 specimens were included, with 39 serum samples from patients with known HEV infection, studied retrospectively. IgG avidity index was high (>60%) in patients with previous infection (n=16) or polyclonal activation (n=3) but was low (<40%) in patients with acute infection (n=20). Then, 93 serum samples from patients, checking for acute hepatitis (detection of anti-HEV IgM but not of HEV RNA) were investigated. IgG avidity index was <40% in 77 of these patients, consistent with acute infection. It exceeded 60% in 15 patients, providing evidence of contact with HEV up to six months previously. One patient had an uninterpretable biological profile, with an IgG avidity index between 40% and 60%. IgG mature slowly during HEV infection, over a period of six months. IgG avidity index can therefore be used to exclude primary infection. This method should improve the diagnosis of acute hepatitis E.
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