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N Engl J Med. 2004 Aug 19;351(8):760-8.

Detection of HIV-1 and HCV infections among antibody-negative blood donors by nucleic acid-amplification testing.

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American Red Cross, Gaithersburg, Md, USA.



Testing of blood donors for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA by means of nucleic acid amplification was introduced in the United States as an investigational screening test in mid-1999 to identify donations made during the window period before seroconversion.


We analyzed all antibody-nonreactive donations that were confirmed to be positive for HIV-1 and HCV RNA on nucleic acid-amplification testing of "minipools" (pools of 16 to 24 donations) by the main blood-collection programs in the United States during the first three years of nucleic acid screening.


Among 37,164,054 units screened, 12 were confirmed to be positive for HIV-1 RNA--or 1 in 3.1 million donations--only 2 of which were detected by HIV-1 p24 antigen testing. For HCV, of 39,721,404 units screened, 170 were confirmed to be positive for HCV RNA, or 1 in 230,000 donations (or 1 in 270,000 on the basis of 139 donations confirmed to be positive for HCV RNA with the use of a more sensitive HCV-antibody test). The respective rates of positive HCV and HIV-1 nucleic acid-amplification tests were 3.3 and 4.1 times as high among first-time donors as among donors who gave blood repeatedly. Follow-up studies of 67 HCV RNA-positive donors demonstrated that seroconversion occurred a median of 35 days after the index donation, followed by a low rate of resolution of viremia; three cases of long-term immunologically silent HCV infection were documented.


Minipool nucleic acid-amplification testing has helped prevent the transmission of approximately 5 HIV-1 infections and 56 HCV infections annually and has reduced the residual risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV-1 and HCV to approximately 1 in 2 million blood units.

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