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Ann Intern Med. 1992 Sep 15;117(6):470-5.

Detection of hepatitis C virus infection among cadaver organ donors: evidence for low transmission of disease.

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  • 1Chiron Corporation, Emeryville, CA 94608.



To determine the prevalence of antibodies to hepatitis C virus (anti-HCV) and HCV RNA among cadaver organ donors and to correlate these results with donor liver histologic abnormalities and evidence for transmission of disease through organ transplantation.


Retrospective testing of stored serum samples from cadaver organ donors for anti-HCV and HCV RNA.


Transplantation service of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center and other cooperative medical centers furnishing follow-up data.


Of 1096 cadaver organ donors harvested between 1 January 1979 and 28 February 1991, 484 had stored serum samples available for analysis. Recipients of organs from recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA)-positive donors for whom adequate follow-up was available were also included in the analysis.


Samples were tested for anti-HCV by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Confirmatory testing was done using a second-generation RIBA. Hepatitis C viral RNA was detected in serum using the polymerase chain reaction. Liver biopsies were obtained from the organ donor and interpreted blindly by a pathologist unaware of the clinical data. Liver chemistry profiles and serum sample analysis for HCV RNA were done for transplant recipients.


From the 484 cadaver organ donors, 89 samples (18%; 95% Cl, 15% to 21%) were reactive by ELISA. Of these, 33 (6.8%; Cl, 4.6% to 9%) were RIBA seropositive. Hepatitis C viral RNA sequences were detected in 50% of the RIBA-positive serum samples tested. Liver tissue was available from 24 of the 33 RIBA-positive donors and showed chronic active hepatitis in 16, chronic persistent hepatitis in 2, and no abnormality in 6. Among the 46 recipients of a kidney from a RIBA-positive donor, 13 (28%; Cl, 15% to 41%) developed post-transplant liver disease, of which only 4 cases were highly suggestive of viral transmission from the donor. Little morbidity and no mortality could be attributed to liver disease in this cohort of recipients.


These data suggest that HCV transmission by organ transplantation is low and that the consequences of infection are small. If the medical condition of the potential recipient is so serious that other options no longer exist, the use of an organ from an anti-HCV-seropositive donor should be considered.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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