Isolated hepatitis B core antibody (antiHBc) without hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) or hepatitis B surface antibody (antiHBs) is found during routine screening for hepatitis B virus (HBV) markers. Isolated antiHBc may indicate immunity against HBV or occult infection. To determine the immune response of health care workers (HCWs) with isolated antiHBc, HCWs were divided into two groups. A single dose of recombinant hepatitis B (HB) vaccine was administered to HCWs with isolated antiHBc (n = 36) and healthy HCWs (n = 20) seronegative for HBsAg, antiHBc and antiHBs. One month later, the subjects were tested for antiHBs. Twenty-one of 36 HCW (58.3%) in the antiHBc group had antiHBs, while only 1 of 20 HCW (5.0%) in the seronegative control group had a detectable antiHBs titer exceeding 10 mIU/ml. The antiHBs response in HCWs with antiHBc was significantly higher than in the seronegative group. The subjects' sera were tested for HBV DNA by nested PCR. Of those with antiHBc, 4 had detectable HBV DNA (occult HBV infection). None of these 4 responded to the vaccine. Therefore, the response elicited by a single dose of HB vaccine administered to patients with antiHBc may serve as an indicator of occult HBV infection.