Detection of hepatitis C core antigen in serum or plasma as a marker of hepatitis C viraemia in the serological window-phase


Dr A. Widell, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Microbiology, Lund University, Malmö University Hospital, S-205 02 Malmö, Sweden. Tel.: +46 40 331365; fax: +46 40 337312; e-mail:


Summary A new immunoassay for the detection of hepatitis C core antigen (HCVcoreAg) in peripheral blood during serological window-phase was evaluated among healthy blood donors, commercially available hepatitis C virus (HCV) seroconversion panels and in-house specimens from individuals undergoing seroconversion. Among 1964 low-risk blood donor samples, seven samples were initially reactive but only one was repeat reactive. Reactivity of this specimen was not confirmable by neutralization with specific anti-HCV core antibody, and the sample was negative for HCV RNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The specificity of the HCVcoreAg enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was 99·95%. In seven commercially available HCV seroconversion panels, HCVcoreAg appeared 23–46 days earlier than anti-HCV antibody by third generation assay. Additional testing with specimens from patients undergoing anti-HCV seroconversion indicated that HCVcoreAg becomes undetectable by the present test format soon after the onset of antibody. This test may be considered as an alternative to nucleic amplification techniques (NAT) for blood donor HCV screening. Additional development of technology for detecting HCVcoreAg may be useful for patient diagnosis and therapy monitoring.