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Low-positive anti-hepatitis C virus enzyme immunoassay results: an important predictor of low likelihood of hepatitis C infection.

Dufour DR, et al. Clin Chem. 2003.


BACKGROUND: Tests for hepatitis C antibodies (anti-HCV enzyme immunoassays) are usually described as positive or negative. Several studies, mainly in blood donors, have found that specimens with low signal/cutoff (S/C) ratios are commonly negative when tested with a recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA) or for HCV RNA.

METHODS: We retrospectively reviewed 17 418 consecutive anti-HCV results from a screening program for high-risk veterans; 2986 (17.1%) samples were anti-HCV-positive, and 490 (16.4%) had S/C ratios <or=3.7 (low positive). Additional tests were performed in 1814 anti-HCV-positive individuals.

RESULTS: RIBA was performed in 263 patients with low-positive anti-HCV; results were negative in 86%, indeterminate in 12%, and positive in 2%. Only 16 of 140 individuals (11%) with low-positive anti-HCV values were HCV RNA-positive, whereas HCV RNA was positive in 90% of 1435 individuals with high-positive anti-HCV values (P <0.0001). Compared with those with high-positive anti-HCV, individuals with low-positive anti-HCV values were older (P <0.0001) and were less likely to have risk factors for HCV (P <0.0001 for most), multiple increased alanine aminotransferase (ALT) activity values (30% vs 81%; P <0.0001), or positive anti-hepatitis B core antigen (19% vs 59%; P <0.0002). Among 634 individuals with high anti-HCV titers and multiple increased ALT activity values, 95% were HCV RNA-positive.

CONCLUSIONS: The S/C ratio is important even in high-risk individuals; laboratories should report the S/C ratio along with anti-HCV EIA results and perform supplemental RIBA testing in those with low-positive values to avoid reporting false-positive results.


12600961 [Indexed for MEDLINE]

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