- Cryptic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection relates to patients infected chronically with HCV that are seronegative but have HCV-RNA. These patients are not identified by the standard serological tests for HCV, which are based on detection of antibodies to core, NS3 and NS5 antigens. They will, therefore, be wrongly diagnosed as non-infected, and are considered as a potential risk for others. Cryptic HCV infection in dialysis units occurs frequently and, due to medical procedures, is a major factor for contracting the virus when unrecognised. This study was conducted in order to assess the humoral immune responses to E2-antigen in sera of patients infected chronically with HCV. Recombinant E2 protein in enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Western blot (WB) were used to test the occurrence of anti-E2 antibodies in the sera of patients from the liver clinic and of dialysis patients. The presence of E2 antibodies was found to be correlated with the presence of HCV-RNA and with viral load. Antibodies to the E2 protein could be detected in as many as 30% of the sera from dialysis patients with cryptic HCV infection (HCV-RNA only). The results suggest that detection of anti-E2 antibodies may enhance significantly HCV serological standard testing; especially among patients on dialysis, and that antibodies to envelope E2 protein appear to depend on and correlate with the presence of HCV particles. J. Med. Virol. 73:529–535, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.