Infectivity of blood components with low hepatitis B virus DNA levels identified in a lookback program

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Japanese Red Cross (JRC) blood centers implemented anti-hepatitis B core antigen (HBc) screening in 1989 and 50-minipool (MP)-nucleic acid testing (NAT) in 2000. A systematic lookback study has been conducted to determine the hepatitis B virus (HBV) transmission risk of donations drawn in the pre-hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and/or MP-NAT window phase and by donors with occult HBV infection.


JRC blood centers have been storing aliquots of every blood donation since 1996. On the basis of the complete repository tube archives, all donations from repeat donors received from 1997 to 2004 were subjected to a lookback study. When repeat donors turned positive for HBV viral marker(s), repository tubes from their previous donations were tested for HBV with individual-donation (ID)-NAT. The frequency of ID-NAT-only–positive donations and the HBV transmission risk by the transfusion of those components were investigated.


HBV ID-NAT was performed on 15,721 repository tubes, and 158 tubes (1.01%) were found positive for the presence of HBV DNA. Of these 158 ID-NAT-only–positive donations, 95 (60%) were derived from carriers with low anti-HBc titers. Of 63 patients transfused with ID-NAT-only–positive components, 12 (19%) proved to be infected with HBV. Only 1 of 33 components with low anti-HBc titers could be identified as infectious, whereas 11 of 22 anti-HBc–negative components proved to be infectious. None of the 16 identified hepatitis B surface antibody–positive components showed serologic evidence of infection.


The clinically observed HBV infection risk caused by blood components from occult HBV carriers with low anti-HBc titers who slip through the JRC screening system is more than 10-fold lower than the transmission risk by donations in the pre-HBsAg and/or MP-NAT window phase.

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