Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Osaka Red Cross Hospital, Osaka, Japan
Occult hepatitis B infection (OBI) is defined as long-lasting persistence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in the liver of patients with hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)-negative status, with or without serological markers of previous exposure (antibodies to HBsAg and/or to hepatitis B core antigen). Over the past two decades, significant progress has been made in understanding OBI and its clinical implications. OBI as a cause of chronic liver disease in patients with HBsAg-negative status is becoming an important disease entity. In conditions of immunocompetence, OBI is inoffensive in itself and detection of HBV DNA in the liver does not always indicate active hepatitis. However, when other factors that cause liver damage, such as hepatitis C virus infection, obesity and alcohol abuse are present, the minimal lesions produced by the immunological response to OBI might worsen the clinical course of the underlying liver disease. Several lines of evidence suggest that OBI is associated with progression of liver fibrosis and the development of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with chronic liver disease. The major interest in OBI is primarily associated with the growing, widely discussed evidence of its clinical impact. The aim of this review is to highlight recent data for OBI, with a major focus on disease progression or carcinogenesis in patients with chronic liver disease.
Keywords: hepatitis B virus, occult hepatitis B infection, chronic liver disease, carcinogenesis, clinical outcome