Bimodal distribution and set point HBV DNA viral loads in chronic infection: retrospective analysis of cohorts from the UK and South Africa
Downs LO., Vawda S., Bester PA., Lythgoe KA., Wang T., McNaughton AL., Smith DA., Maponga T., Freeman O., Várnai KA., Davies J., Woods K., Fraser C., Barnes E., Goedhals D., Matthews PC.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) viral load (VL) is used as a biomarker to assess risk of disease progression, and to determine eligibility for treatment. While there is a well recognised association between VL and the expression of the viral e-antigen (HBeAg) protein, the precise determinants and distribution of VL at a population level are not well described. We here report the distribution of HBV VL in two large cross-sectional population cohorts in the UK and in South Africa, demonstrating a consistent bimodal distribution. The right skewed distribution and low median viral loads are significantly different from the left-skew and higher viraemia in seen in comparable HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) cohorts. Using longitudinal data, we present evidence for a stable ‘set-point’ VL in peripheral blood during chronic HBV infection. These results are important to underpin improved understanding of HBV biology and to plan public health interventions.