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Case report: passive transfer of hepatitis B antibodies from intravenous immunoglobulin

Simon Parker1*, Eliza Gil2, Patricia Hewitt2, Katherine Ward3, Yasmin Reyal4, Sasha Wilson4 and Jessica Manson5

Author Affiliations

1 Flat 19, 3 St Pancras Way, London NW1 0PB, UK

2 Department of Rheumatology, University College London Hospitals, 3rd Floor, 250 Euston Road, London NW1 2PG, UK

3 Division of Infection & Immunity, University College London, Room 133, 74 Huntley Street, London WC1E 6AU, UK

4 Haematology and Blood Transfusion, University College London, 60 Whitfield Street, London W1T 4EU, UK

5 Transfusion Microbiology Office, NHSBT Colindale, Charcot Road, Colindale, London NW9 5BG, UK

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:99  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-99

Published: 22 February 2014



Prior to initiating immunosuppressive therapy in the treatment of autoimmune inflammatory conditions, it is a requirement to screen for certain viral serology, including hepatitis B (HBV). A positive result may indicate the need for antiviral therapy, or contraindicate immunosuppression all together. An accurate interpretation of serological markers is therefore imperative in order to treat patients appropriately. We present a case of passive anti-HBV antibody transfer following intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) infusion, in which misinterpretation of serology results almost led to inappropriate treatment with antiviral therapy and the withholding of immunosuppressive agents. This phenomenon has been previously reported, but awareness remains limited.

Case presentation

A 50 year old Caucasian gentleman with a history of allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplant for transformed follicular lymphoma was admitted to hospital with recurrent respiratory tract infections. Investigation found him to be hypogammaglobulinaemic, and he was thus given 1 g/kg of intravenous immunoglobulin. The patient also disclosed a 3-week history of painful, swollen joints, leading to a diagnosis of seronegative inflammatory polyarthritis. Prior to initiating long term immunosuppression, viral screening found hepatitis B serology suggestive of past infection, with positive results for both anti-HBc and anti-HBs antibody, but negative HBV DNA. In response, prednisolone was weaned and the local hepatology team recommended commencement of lamivudine. Having been unable to identify a source of infection, the case was reported to the local blood centre, who tested a remaining vial from the same batch of IVIg and found it to be anti-HBc and anti-HBs positive. Fortunately the blood products were identified and tested prior to the patient initiating HBV treatment, and the effect of a delay in starting disease-modifying therapy was inconsequential in light of an excellent response to first-line therapies.


Misinterpretation of serology results following IVIg infusion may lead to significant patient harm, including unnecessary antiviral administration, the withholding of treatments, and psychosocial damage. This is especially pertinent at a time when we have an ever increasing number of patients being treated with IVIg for a wide array of immune-mediated disease. Passive antibody transfer should be considered wherever unexpected serological changes are identified.

Hepatitis B virus; Intravenous immunoglobulin; Passive antibody transfer; Seronegative inflammatory polyarthritis; Lymphoma; Haematopoietic stem cell transplant; Immunosuppression