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Transfusion. 2001 Mar;41(3):333-7.

Routine HCV PCR screening of blood donations to identify early HCV infection in blood donors lacking antibodies to HCV.

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Transfusion Center, Johannes Gutenberg Clinic, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.



Detection of early hepatitis C infection of blood donors is still a major problem for blood transfusion. Common anti-HCV screening assays show differences in sensitivity and specificity. The often mild symptoms of acute hepatitis C also cause difficulties in the identification of early HCV infection. The feasibility and efficacy of routine screening of blood donations for HCV RNA were investigated.


Blood donations (n = 251,737) were screened for HCV RNA over 4 years. RNA extraction, amplification, and detection were done by two commercial HCV PCR kits (HCV Cobas Amplicor and HCV Cobas Amplicor 2.0, Roche Diagnostics). Screening was done by pool testing with a maximum pool size of 40 serum samples.


Three donations out of 251,737 were HCV RNA positive and anti-HCV negative. ALT levels of these donations were 271, 32, and 10 U per L. The HCV infection of a fourth HCV RNA-positive donor could not be identified by routine, second-generation HCV EIA (Abbott Diagnostika). In this case, two previous donations were also HCV RNA positive, and three second-generation test systems (Abbott) could not detect anti-HCV, whereas third-generation anti-HCV screening assays detected antibody with different sensitivity. The first HCV RNA-positive donation was identified only by the HCV ELISA 3.0 (Ortho Diagnostic Systems). The results of confirmatory assays like RIBA HCV 3.0 (Ortho) and Matrix (Abbott) indicate a restricted immune response to NS3 only.


HCV RNA detection by PCR can be carried out routinely in blood donor screening without significant delay of release of the components. The residual risk of transmission can be reduced by identification of early infection, which can lead to an improved safety of blood components. RNA screening can also be advantageous in cases of incomplete or lack of antibody response to HCV.

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