Background: The exact significance of antibodies to hepatitis C virus (HCV) in blood donors remains unknown. Confirmatory tests of anti-HCV- reactive serum and HCV RNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are used to refute a large proportion of false-positive results.

Study Design and Methods: Ninety-two blood donors who were anti-HCV reactive in a first-generation enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) were reevaluated 10 months later with a second-generation ELISA (ELISA-2) as well as with second-generation recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA-2) and by PCR.

Results: Twenty-five (43.9%) of the 57 ELISA-2-positive donors were confirmed as positive by RIBA-2; of these, 84 percent were HCV RNA positive in PCR. Of the 57 who were still anti-HCV positive, 46 were followed up and tested again in the same manner 2 years after the first screening. At that time, the pattern was little changed: 94 percent of RIBA-2- and PCR-positive donors remained positive. Of RIBA-2- and PCR-positive blood donors, 62 percent had abnormal alanine aminotransferase levels in at least one of the three evaluations. Among the anti-HCV-positive donors confirmed by RIBA-2, 60 percent, versus 12.6 percent in the control group, had a significantly (p < 0.001) more frequent risk factor for HCV infection, due to parenteral exposure to blood.

Conclusion: These data confirm a good correlation between RIBA-2 reactivity and the detection of HCV RNA in a population of anti-HCV- positive blood donors.