Published online Nov 21, 2007. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v13.i43.5682
Revised: September 5, 2007
Accepted: October 12, 2007
Published online: November 21, 2007
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a highly pathogenic virus that causes chronic liver diseases in millions of people globally. In addition to a symptomatic, serologically evident infection, occult persistent HBV carriage has been identified since nucleic acid amplification assays of enhanced sensitivity became introduced for detection of hepadnaviral genomes and their replicative intermediates. Current evidence indicates that occult HBV infection is a common and long-term consequence of resolution of acute hepatitis B. This form of residual infection is termed as secondary occult infection (SOI). The data from the woodchuck model of HBV infection indicate that exposure to small amounts of hepadnavirus can also cause primary occult infection (POI) where virus genome, but no serological makers of exposure to virus, are detectable, and the liver may not be involved. However, virus replicates at low levels in the lymphatic system in both these forms. We briefly summarize the current understanding of the nature and characteristics of occult hepadnaviral persistence as well as of its documented and expected pathological consequences.