Objective: To evaluate the serological and epidemiological characteristics of HTLV-I/II-positive blood donors in continental France during the first 6 months of universal screening of blood donations (n = 1,816,927).
Method: A collaborative investigation of all confirmed anti-HTLV-I/II-positive samples reported by blood transfusion centres was performed. Seventy-three out of 77 reported samples were retested at two reference laboratories. Epidemiological data on risk factors were compiled.
Results: Of the 73 retested samples, 66 were confirmed to be HTLV-I-positive and one to be HTLV-II-positive; six samples were designated false-positive, mainly because of non-specific reactivity to recombinant gp21 in Western blot. The overall prevalence of HTLV-I/II in continental France is 0.039 per thousand. The main risk factor identified for HTLV-I infection was directly (origin) or indirectly (heterosexual contact) linked to endemicity in the Caribbean. The cost per case of avoided contamination in the 6-month period of this study was 1.36 million French francs.
Conclusions: Sixty-two per cent of HTLV-I/II-infected blood donations would not have been discarded through the previous targeted HTLV screening or through other mandatory tests, including anti-hepatitis B core. To avoid false-positive results, we propose a new algorithm of diagnosis.