Background: The causes of post-transfusion non-A, non-B hepatitis are still not fully defined, nor is it clear how accurate the tests are that are used to screen blood donors for hepatitis C virus (HCV) and to diagnose post-transfusion hepatitis caused by infected blood.
Methods: We used two first-generation enzyme-linked immunoassays (EIAs) and one second-generation immunoassay to test for anti-HCV antibodies in serum samples collected between 1976 and 1979 in the Transfusion-Transmitted Viruses Study (from 1247 patients who underwent transfusion and 1235 matched control subjects who did not receive transfusions). We tested serum collected before and after infection from the patients in whom non-A, non-B hepatitis developed, serum from their blood donors, and serum from 41 of the control subjects who had hepatitis unrelated to transfusion.
Results: Of the 115 patients in whom post-transfusion non-A, non-B hepatitis developed, the initial serum samples of 111 were anti-HCV-negative; after hepatitis developed in these 111 patients, the first-generation EIAs detected anti-HCV in 51 (46 percent), and the second-generation assay detected anti-HCV in an additional 16 (14 percent), for a total of 60 percent. Of 40 controls, 37 were anti-HCV-negative initially, and none seroconverted after hepatitis developed. If the 3 percent rate of non-A, non-B, non-C hepatitis among the controls (37 of 1235) was applied to the 1247 transfusion recipients, only 74 of the 111 cases of hepatitis were attributable to the transfusion. Thus, 91 percent (67 of 74) of the cases of post-transfusion hepatitis were caused by HCV. Of the 99 donors, 60 were HCV-positive (9 on second-generation tests only) and 39 were not.
Conclusions: Nearly all cases of non-A, non-B post-transfusion hepatitis are caused by HCV. Screening with a second-generation assay improves the rate of detection of HCV infection in patients with post-transfusion hepatitis and in blood donors. The use of this test showed a 3.6 percent risk of non-A, non-B, non-C hepatitis, which was not significantly different from the rate in the controls (3.0 percent).