Background & aims: Organ donors are a potential source of transmissible disease after transplantation. The aim of this study was to evaluate the risk of acquiring hepatitis B among transplantation recipients of livers from donors without serum hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) but with antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc).
Methods: The transplantation experience of four centers between 1989 and 1994 was reviewed. Recipients of livers from 674 donors were considered informative for hepatitis B virus transmission.
Results: Hepatitis B developed in 18 of 23 recipients of livers from anti-HBc-positive donors (78%) compared with only 3 of 651 recipients of anti-HBc-negative donor livers (0.5%) (P < 0.0001). HBsAg persisted in all recipients with donor-related hepatitis B. Liver histology showed chronic hepatitis of moderate severity in 2 of 13 recipients at 1 year and 5 of 8 recipients between 1.6 and 4.5 years from transplantation. Liver transplantation from an anti-HBc-positive donor was associated with decreased 4-year survival (adjusted mortality hazard ratio of 2.4; 95% confidence interval, 1.4-4.0).
Conclusions: De novo posttransplantation hepatitis B infection occurs at a high rate in recipients of donors with anti-HBc. Transmission of hepatitis B through transplantation suggests that the virus may persist in the liver despite serological resolution of infection.