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N Engl J Med. 1990 Nov 8;323(19):1312-7.

Prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 p24 antigen in U.S. blood donors--an assessment of the efficacy of testing in donor screening. The HIV-Antigen Study Group.

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National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.



We performed a multicenter study in 1989 to determine whether screening whole-blood donors for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) p24 antigen would improve transfusion safety by identifying carriers of the virus who are seronegative for HIV-1 antibody.


More than 500,000 donations were tested at 13 U.S. blood centers with test kits from two manufacturers. Units found repeatedly reactive were retested in a central laboratory; if the results were positive, they were confirmed by a neutralization assay. A subgroup of units was also tested for HIV-1 by the polymerase chain reaction. Selected donors confirmed or not confirmed as having p24 antigen were contacted for follow-up interviews to identify risk factors and undergo retesting for HIV-1 markers.


Positive tests for p24 antigen were confirmed by neutralization in five donors (0.001 percent of all donations tested), all of whom were also positive for HIV-1 antibody and HIV-1 by polymerase chain reaction. Three of the antigen-positive donors had other markers of infectious disease that would have resulted in the exclusion of their blood; two had risk factors for HIV-1 that should have led to self-exclusion. Of 220 blood units with repeatedly reactive p24 antigen whose presence could not be confirmed by neutralization (0.04 percent of the donations studied), none were positive for HIV-1 antibody, HIV-1 by polymerase chain reaction (120 units tested), or virus culture (76 units tested)--attesting to the specificity of confirmatory neutralization.


The finding that no donation studied was positive for p24 antigen and negative for HIV-1 antibody suggests that screening donors for p24 antigen with tests of the current level of sensitivity would not add substantially to the safety of the U.S. blood supply.

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