Background: Recently, new immunoblot assays for the detection of antibodies to hepatitis C virus (HCV) became available.
Study design and methods: The performance of five confirmatory anti-HCV immunoblot assays was studied with samples with known HCV antibody and HCV RNA status. The assays were a third-generation strip recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA-3, Chiron Corp., Emeryville, CA), a second-generation HCV blot (DB-2 blot, Diagnostic Biotechnology, Singapore), the Wellcozyme HCV Western blot (Murex blot, Murex Diagnostics, Dartford, UK), an immunodot HCV assay (Matrix, Abbott Laboratories, Chicago, IL), and the third-generation HCV line immunoassay (Liatek-III, Organon Teknika, Boxtel, The Netherlands).
Results: Sensitivity on samples from 48 HCV RNA-positive, second-generation RIBA (RIBA-2)-positive persons and specificity on samples from 31 low-risk donors was 96 percent or better for all assays. The sensitivity on 31 HCV RNA-positive, RIBA-2-indeterminate samples was as follows: Liatek-III, 94 percent; RIBA-3, 90 percent; Murex blot, 61 percent; Matrix, 55 percent; and DB-2 blot, 39 percent. In testing 39 HCV RNA-negative, RIBA-2-indeterminate donor samples, the percentage found to be negative was Liatek-III, 77 percent; RIBA-3, 67 percent; Murex blot, 49 percent; DB-2 blot, 33 percent; and Matrix, 15 percent. The order of sensitivity on four HCV seroconversion series was (from high to low): RIBA-3, Liatek-III, DB-2 blot, Murex blot, and Matrix; the differences were small.
Conclusion: Detection of HCV antibodies was not refined by the addition of new HCV antigens (NS5, E2/NS1), but by improved classical antigens (core, NS3, NS4). Replacement of the commonly used RIBA-2 will resolve the status of a high proportion of RIBA-2-indeterminate samples.