▪Objective: To compare the effect of screening blood donors for antibodies to hepatitis C virus (anti-HCV) on the incidence of non-A, non-B hepatitis in recipients with that of screening blood donors for antibodies to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) and elevated alanine aminotransferase levels.
▪Design: Cohort analysis of serum samples from donors and recipients. Recipients were followed for 12 months to determine the occurrence of non-A, non-B hepatitis.
▪Setting: The blood-transmitted viruses unit and the liver unit of a university teaching hospital.
▪Subjects: A total of 250 patients who had open heart surgery and their 3142 blood donors.
▪Measurements: Donor sera were tested for anti-HCV by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and, in the event of a positive result, by recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA). Antibodies to anti-HBc and serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels were also measured. Measurements of anti-HCV and ALT activity in recipients were done before transfusion and at regular intervals during follow-up.
▪Main Results: Of the 250 transfusion recipients, 40 developed non-A, non-B hepatitis. Of the 3142 donors, 70 were positive for anti-HCV by ELISA, 440 were positive for anti-HBc, and 177 had alanine aminotransferase levels between 0.67 and 1.33 µkat/L. The sensitivity (87%), specificity (89%), positive predictive value (59%), and negative predictive value (97%) of blood-donor screening were higher for anti-HCV than for anti-HBc (82%, 36%, 21%, and 91%, respectively) and for elevated alanine aminotransferase levels (65%, 70%, 29%, and 91%, respectively). The expected number of donors excluded because of the presence of anti-HCV was considerably smaller than that of donors with positive results for surrogate markers of hepatitis.
▪Conclusion: Screening blood donors for the presence of anti-HCV is more accurate than screening for surrogate markers (anti-HBc and ALT) and protects more effectively against post-transfusion non-A, non-B hepatitis.