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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Positive hepatitis B surface antigen tests due to recent vaccination: a persistent problem

Carolyn D Rysgaard, Cory S Morris, Denny Drees, Tami Bebber, Scott R Davis, Jeff Kulhavy and Matthew D Krasowski*

Author affiliations

Department of Pathology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, IA, 52242, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Clinical Pathology 2012, 12:15  doi:10.1186/1472-6890-12-15

Published: 24 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a common cause of viral hepatitis with significant health complications including cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Assays for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) are the most frequently used tests to detect HBV infection. Vaccination for HBV can produce transiently detectable levels of HBsAg in patients. However, the time course and duration of this effect is unclear. The objective of this retrospective study was to clarify the frequency and duration of transient HBsAg positivity following vaccination against HBV.

Methods

The electronic medical record at an academic tertiary care medical center was searched to identify all orders for HBsAg within a 17 month time period. Detailed chart review was performed to identify all patients who were administered HBV vaccine within 180 days prior to HBsAg testing and also to ascertain likely cause of weakly positive (grayzone) results.

Results

During the 17 month study period, 11,719 HBsAg tests were ordered on 9,930 patients. There were 34 tests performed on 34 patients who received HBV vaccine 14 days or less prior to HBsAg testing. Of these 34 patients, 11 had grayzone results for HBsAg that could be attributed to recent vaccination. Ten of the 11 patients were renal dialysis patients who were receiving HBsAg testing as part of routine and ongoing monitoring. Beyond 14 days, there were no reactive or grayzone HBsAg tests that could be attributed to recent HBV vaccination. HBsAg results reached a peak COI two to three days following vaccination before decaying. Further analysis of all the grayzone results within the 17 month study period (43 results out of 11,719 tests) revealed that only 4 of 43 were the result of true HBV infection as verified by confirmatory testing.

Conclusions

Our study confirms that transient HBsAg positivity can occur in patients following HBV vaccination. The results suggest this positivity is unlikely to persist beyond 14 days post-vaccination. Our study also demonstrates that weakly positive HBsAg results often do not reflect actual HBV infection, underscoring the importance of confirmatory testing. This study also emphasizes that vaccination-induced HBsAg positives occur most commonly in hemodialysis patients.

Keywords:
False positive reactions; Hepatitis; Hepatitis B surface antigens; Public health; Renal dialysis; Vaccination