Background and objectives: The frequency of hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infectious donations entering the blood supply in England is too low to monitor using observational studies. The expected frequency of infectious donations can be estimated and these estimates may be used to contribute to monitoring of blood safety and used in the design of strategies to decrease the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections.
Materials and methods: The prevalence and incidence of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), and antibodies to HCV and HIV (anti-HCV and anti-HIV, respectively) in donors in England, between 1993 and 2001, were used together with data about the length of negative 'window-periods' of current assays for each of these markers and data about test performance, to estimate the number of infectious donations that enter the blood supply. The risks were calculated separately for donations from new donors and from repeat donors, and for the three time periods 1993-95, 1996-98 and 1999-01.
Results: The estimated frequency of infectious donations entering the blood supply in England, between 1993 and 2001 was 1 in 260,000 for HBV and 1 in 8 million for HIV. For HCV, the frequency of infectious donations was 1 in 520,000 during 1993-98 and fell to 1 in 30 million during 1999-2001 when all donations were tested for HCV RNA. The frequency of HBV- and HCV-infectious donations entering the blood supply fell over these 9 years: the frequency of HIV-infectious donations remained essentially unchanged. The risk from donations from new donors was found to be approximately sevenfold higher than the risk from donations from repeat donors.
Conclusions: The risks of HBV-, HCV- or HIV-infectious donations entering the blood supply in England are very low, and have decreased since 1993. Although the accuracy of these estimates is imperfect, mainly owing to uncertainty in some assumptions and to small numbers of infections, they provide some quantification of the risk of HBV, HCV or HIV transmission by transfusion, and allow comparison of the magnitude of these risks for each infection and over time. The methods we have used have been developed and improved from previously published methods.