Hepatitis B virus antigens and antibodies were detected in the sera of acute and persistently infected patients. Evidence of active virus replication was confined to immediately before or during the initial detection of hepatitis B surface antigen during acute hepatitis B. Hepatitis B core antibody appeared during the period of antigenaemia and preceded recovery. Hepatitis B e antigen was dound in a proportion of sera which contained significant levels of virus particles. In contrast, all sera containing hepatitis B virus particles from persistently infected patients treated by maintenance haemodialysis also contained the e antigen. Among a group of 50 persistent carriers of hepatitis B virus, significant levels of virus production occurred in the presence of antibody to e antigen. In addition, evidence of exposure to hepatitis B virus was found among 3% of blood donors in whose sera the surface antigen was not detected by radioimmunoassay. The significance of these findings is discussed in relation to the aetiology of hepatitis type B.
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