Hepatitis C Core Antigen Testing for Diagnosis of Hepatitis C Virus Infection: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Ann Intern Med. 2016 Sep 6;165(5):345-55. doi: 10.7326/M16-0065. Epub 2016 Jun 21.


Background: Diagnosis of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection requires both a positive HCV antibody screen and confirmatory nucleic acid testing (NAT). Testing for hepatitis C virus core antigen (HCVcAg) is a potential alternative to NAT.

Purpose: To evaluate the accuracy of diagnosis of active HCV infection among adults and children for 5 HCVcAg tests compared with NAT.

Data sources: EMBASE, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews from 1990 through 31 March 2016.

Study selection: Case-control, cross-sectional, cohort, or randomized trials that compared any of 5 HCVcAg tests with an NAT reference standard.

Data extraction: 2 independent reviewers extracted data and assessed quality using an adapted QUADAS-2 (Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies 2) tool.

Data synthesis: 44 studies evaluated 5 index tests. Studies for the Abbott ARCHITECT HCV Ag assay had the highest quality, whereas those for the Ortho HCV Ag enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) had the lowest quality. From bivariate analyses, the sensitivity and specificity of the assays were as follows: Abbott ARCHITECT, 93.4% (95% CI, 90.1% to 96.4%) and 98.8% (CI, 97.4% to 99.5%); Ortho ELISA, 93.2% (CI, 81.6% to 97.7%) and 99.2% (CI, 87.9% to 100%); and Hunan Jynda Bioengineering Group HCV Ag ELISA, 59.5% (CI, 46.0% to 71.7%) and 82.9% (CI, 58.6% to 94.3%). Insufficient data were available for a meta-analysis about the Fujirebio Lumipulse Ortho HCV Ag and Eiken Lumispot HCV Ag assays. In 3 quantitative studies using Abbott ARCHITECT, HCVcAg correlated closely with HCV RNA levels greater than 3000 IU/mL.

Limitations: Insufficient data were available on covariates, such as HIV or hepatitis B virus status, for subgroup analyses. Few studies reported genotypes of isolates, and data for genotypes 4, 5, and 6 were scant. Most studies were conducted in high-resource settings and reference laboratories.

Conclusion: The HCVcAg assays with signal amplification have high sensitivity, high specificity, and good correlation with HCV RNA levels greater than 3000 IU/mL and have the potential to replace NAT in settings with high HCV prevalence.

Primary funding source: National Institutes of Health.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Genotype
  • Hepacivirus / genetics
  • Hepacivirus / isolation & purification
  • Hepatitis C / diagnosis*
  • Hepatitis C / virology
  • Hepatitis C Antigens / blood*
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques
  • RNA, Viral / blood
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Hepatitis C Antigens
  • RNA, Viral