Molecular Diagnosis & Therapy

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 77–91

New Strategies for Blood Donor Screening for Hepatitis B Virus

Nucleic Acid Testing versus Immunoassay Methods


    • Abbott Diagnostics
  • Michael P. Busch
    • Blood Systems Research Institute
    • University of California
Infectious Diseases

DOI: 10.1007/BF03256447

Cite this article as:
Kuhns, M.C. & Busch, M.P. Mol Diag Ther (2006) 10: 77. doi:10.1007/BF03256447


Serologic testing for hepatitis B virus (HBV) surface antigen (HBsAg) and antibody to HBV core antigen (anti-HBc) has historically been the foundation of blood screening, while HBV nucleic acid testing (NAT) was recently developed to detect HBsAg-negative, anti-HBc-negative blood units donated during early acute infection. Comparison data on seroconversion panels using HBsAg assays of varying sensitivities and pooled- or single-sample NAT, along with viral load estimates corresponding to HBsAg assay detection limits, have provided information on the theoretical benefits of NAT relative to HBsAg. Model-derived estimates have generally been predictive of the yields of DNA-positive, HBsAg-negative window period blood units detected in a number of studies from Europe, Japan, and the US. Studies indicate that the added benefit of pooled-sample NAT is relatively small in areas of low endemicity, with greater yields in areas highly endemic for HBV. Single-sample NAT would offer more significant early window period closure and could prevent a moderate number of residual HBV transmissions not detected by HBsAg assays; however, no fully automated single-sample HBV NAT systems are currently available.

Even single-sample HBV NAT may not substitute for anti-HBc screening, as indicated by studies of donors with isolated anti-HBc who have extremely low DNA levels undetectable by standard single-sample NAT and who have been associated with transfusion-transmitted HBV. Moreover, HBsAg testing may still be needed even in the setting of combined anti-HBc and NAT screening. HBsAg-positive units from donors in the chronic stage of infection may contain very low or intermittently detectable DNA levels that single-sample NAT would miss. Although such donors are usually anti-HBc reactive and would be interdicted by anti-HBc screening, some lack anti-HBc. Extensive parallel testing will be needed to determine whether single-sample NAT in combination with anti-HBc might be sufficient to detect all the infectious donors currently interdicted by HBsAg testing. In countries that do not screen for anti-HBc, HBsAg testing would be the only means of detecting donations from chronically infected individuals with low/intermittently detectable DNA, since even single-donor NAT would not identify these potentially infectious blood units.

In the future, the current fully automated HBsAg assays may incorporate significant sensitivity improvements, and automated single-sample HBV NAT may become a reality. Each country will need to develop its blood screening strategy based on HBV endemicity, yields of infectious units detected by different serologic/NAT screening methods, and cost effectiveness of test methods in ensuring blood safety.

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© Adis Data Information BV 2006