Impact of screening donor blood for alanine aminotransferase and antibody to hepatitis B core antigen on the risk of hepatitis C virus transmission

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The transfusion-related risk of transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) was evaluated in France for the periods before and after exclusion of donor blood units with the surrogate markers elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels and antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc). A total of 1,412 blood recipients undergoing surgery were followed up prospectively in the period from 1986 to 1989. The stored serum samples were tested for antibodies to HCV by an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) and the result in reactive sera confirmed by a recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA). The risk of HCV transmission was estimated by the maximum likelihood method for a subpopulation of 892 recipients divided into three groups. Of 55 (3.9 %) EIA positive patients, 56.4 % were found to be positive prior to transfusion. HCV seroconversion (positive RIBA) occurred in 22 patients (1.6 %). The risk of HCV transmission per 1,000 transfused blood units decreased significantly from 4.11 in Group 1 (receiving non-screened blood) to 3.43 in Group II (receiving ALT screened blood) and to 1.40 in Group III (receiving ALT and anti-HBc screened blood). These results demonstrate that screening of donors for surrogate markers had reduced the risk of HCV transmission before the introduction of a systematic anti-HCV screening policy in France in March 1990.