Interpretation and management of positive anti-hepatitis B core antibody tests in immunocompromised pediatric patients

Eimear Kitt, Molly Hayes, Ana María Cárdenas, Abby M. Green

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Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) therapy is increasingly used in the pediatric population, in particular among children with immune-compromising conditions. Pooled immunoglobulin products are routinely tested for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and nucleic acid; however, screening for hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc) is not commonly performed. Thus, the administration of IVIg containing anti-HBc to children with immune-compromising conditions may complicate the interpretation of hepatitis B serologic testing in that a positive anti-HBc test may represent passive transfer of antibody from IVIg or may indicate resolved or chronic hepatitis B infection. Due to the risk of hepatitis B reactivation in immunocompromised patients, a positive anti-HBc test must be carefully considered. As part of a quality improvement initiative, we identified and reviewed the records of all pediatric patients at our institution who tested positive for anti-HBc over an 18-month period. Of 44 total patients with positive anti-HBc tests, we found that 22 (50%) had previously received IVIg in the preceding 4 months. All but one of these, 21/22 (95%), went on to receive immunosuppressive therapy (IS). Among the patients who received IS, 19 (86%) had not undergone hepatitis B serologic testing prior to IVIg administration and 16 (73%) did not have subsequent testing to distinguish between passive acquisition of anti-HBc from IVIg and chronic hepatitis B infection. Our single-center experience reveals that a high proportion of positive anti-HBc tests in children are presumed to be because of the passive antibody transfer from IVIg. However, a low proportion of patients undergo confirmatory testing, despite the risk of hepatitis B reactivation during IS. We thus propose a risk-based algorithm for interpretation and monitoring of hepatitis B testing in immunocompromised children.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13074
JournalTransplant Infectious Disease
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • hepatitis B
  • immunocompromised
  • intravenous immunoglobulin
  • virus reactivation


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