Background: Routine screening of blood donations with second-generation hepatitis hepatitis C virus (HCV) assays has substantially reduced the occurrence of posttransfusion hepatitis. However, following the development of third-generation assays, several studies indicated that these assays may identify HCV-infected individuals who are not identified by second-generation assays.
Study design and methods: The sensitivity of a third-generation HCV enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA-3) was compared with a second-generation ELISA (ELISA-2) in a side-by-side study of 9936 commercial blood donors. ELISA-reactive specimens were subjected to supplemental analysis by third-generation recombinant immunoblot assay and polymerase chain reaction.
Results: ELISA-3 demonstrated greater sensitivity than ELISA-2, detecting 1 additional recombinant immunoblot assay-positive specimen per 2000 tested. ELISA-3 also detected 1 additional HCV-infectious polymerase chain reaction-positive unit among approximately 10,000 units screened.
Conclusion: The incremental sensitivity achieved with ELISA-3 can be expected to eliminate approximately 20 infectious donations per week among those made by commercial donors in the United States. In accordance with previous studies, most of the improved sensitivity of ELISA-3 derives from its increased detection of anti-c33c (NS3), rather than from the inclusion of HCV antigen NS5.