Occult hepatitis B infection and transfusion-transmission risk

Transfus Clin Biol. 2017 Sep;24(3):189-195. doi: 10.1016/j.tracli.2017.06.014. Epub 2017 Jun 30.


Advances in serology and viral nucleic acid testing (NAT) over the last decades significantly reduced the risk of transfusion-transmitted hepatitis B virus (HBV). The combination of HBsAg testing and NAT efficiently prevents the majority of HBV transmission. However, a specific residual risk remains associated with extremely low viral DNA levels in blood donors with occult HBV infection (OBI) that are intermittently or not detectable even by highly sensitive individual donation (ID) NAT. Studies have reported HBV transfusion-transmission with blood components from donors with OBI that contained low amount of viruses (<200 virions). HBV transfusion-transmission seems to depend on a combination of several factors including the volume of plasma associated with the infected blood components transfused, the anti-HBV immune status of both recipient and donor, and possibly the viral fitness of the infecting HBV strain. Models based on clinical and experimental evidences estimate a residual transmission risk of 3-14% associated with OBI donations testing HBsAg and ID-NAT non-reactive. Anti-HBc testing has the potential to improve further blood safety but it may also compromise blood availability in settings with medium/high HBV prevalence. Pathogen reduction procedures might be considered.

Keywords: Blood safety; Détection du génome viral; Hepatitis B virus; Infection B occulte; Nucleic acid testing; Occult HBV infection; Sécurité transfusionnelle; Transfusion-transmission; Transmission par transfusion; Virus de l’hépatite B.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Component Transfusion / adverse effects
  • Blood Donors*
  • DNA, Viral / blood*
  • Donor Selection
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Hepatitis B / blood*
  • Hepatitis B / diagnosis
  • Hepatitis B / transmission
  • Hepatitis B Antibodies / blood
  • Hepatitis B Core Antigens / immunology
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / blood
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques*
  • Risk
  • Transfusion Reaction / prevention & control*
  • Transfusion Reaction / virology
  • Viremia / diagnosis*
  • Viremia / transmission


  • DNA, Viral
  • Hepatitis B Antibodies
  • Hepatitis B Core Antigens
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens