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The patterns of hepatitis B virus (HBV) markers described in textbooks apply to acute and chronic infection with wild-type HBV. Deviations from these patterns occur in the very early phase, in low-level (or occult) infection and under immunosuppression. Variability may originate from the virus, the host or the test kits. In order to obtain a reliable diagnosis under these conditions, tests for all three markers of HBV infection have to be applied: HBsAg, HBV DNA and anti-HBc. All tests should be as sensitive as feasible, but even then occult infection may be missed. Reliable detection of occult or mutated HBV is particularly important in blood and organ donors and in patients before or with immunosuppression.