Occult hepatitis B infection (OBI) is the presence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in the liver and/or serum (< 200 IU/mL) in HBsAgnegative patients with or without serologic markers of previous viral exposure. The clinical significance of OBI is of concern in posttransfusional hepatitis B infection, hepatitis B reactivation, chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The diagnosis of OBI relays on the use of highly sensitive and specific laboratory techniques. Herein, comments derived from a study analyzing the frequency and characteristics of OBI in HCC Japanese patients are stated. While OBI and other causes of HCC have been highly studied in Asia and Europe, research in Latin America in these topics is limited. Several findings such as population risk groups with high prevalence of overt and OBI infection, HBV genotype F in Argentinean HCC patients, and the clinical impact of the foreign A-D genotypes suggest the need of further investigation. Additionally, alcoholism, obesity, NASH and type 2 diabetes may override the presence of OBI. Therefore, OBI diagnosis is essential. It is known that anti-HBc alone is a predictive signal of potential OBI and given the fluctuations of the HBV infection markers, testing for HBsAg and anti-HBc at baseline and follow-up is recommended. In conclusion, OBI and other causes involved in the epidemiology of HCC in Latin America are unexplored risk factors. Genome-based research is required to decipher the role of gene-environmental interactions associated with chronic liver disease. Novel algorithms to detect OBI supported by basic/applied/clinical research are also needed.
Key words. Risk factor, Epidemiology, Hepatocellular carcinoma, HBV genotypes, Diagnostics