The detection of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in blood donors is achieved by screening for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and for antibodies against hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc). However, donors who are positive for HBV DNA are currently not identified during the window period before seroconversion. The current use of nucleic acid testing for detection of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA and HBV DNA in a single triplex assay may provide additional safety.
We performed nucleic acid testing on 3.7 million blood donations and further evaluated those that were HBV DNA–positive but negative for HBsAg and anti-HBc. We determined the serologic, biochemical, and molecular features of samples that were found to contain only HBV DNA and performed similar analyses of follow-up samples and samples from sexual partners of infected donors. Seronegative HIV and HCV-positive donors were also studied.
We identified 9 donors who were positive for HBV DNA (1 in 410,540 donations), including 6 samples from donors who had received the HBV vaccine, in whom subclinical infection had developed and resolved. Of the HBV DNA–positive donors, 4 probably acquired HBV infection from a chronically infected sexual partner. Clinically significant liver injury developed in 2 unvaccinated donors. In 5 of the 6 vaccinated donors, a non-A genotype was identified as the dominant strain, whereas subgenotype A2 (represented in the HBV vaccine) was the dominant strain in unvaccinated donors. Of 75 reactive nucleic acid test results identified in seronegative blood donations, 26 (9 HBV, 15 HCV, and 2 HIV) were confirmed as positive.
Triplex nucleic acid testing detected potentially infectious HBV, along with HIV and HCV, during the window period before seroconversion. HBV vaccination appeared to be protective, with a breakthrough subclinical infection occurring with non-A2 HBV subgenotypes and causing clinically inconsequential outcomes. (Funded by the American Red Cross and others.)