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BACKGROUND: The results obtained in sequential specimens from recently infected subjects generally provide the best means of comparing the sensitivity of assays.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: The sensitivity of second- and third-generation assays for antibody to hepatitis C virus (HCV) was compared on sequential specimens, generally collected at monthly intervals from 45 patients undergoing hemodialysis who seroconverted for HCV between 1980 and 1990.

RESULTS: Fifteen patients (33%) were positive earlier in the third-generation enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), with a mean difference of 17 days (range, 7–30) between the last negative and the first positive specimens. At the first rise in alanine aminotransferase, and at its peak, 63 and 91 percent of the patients, respectively, were anti-HCV positive in the third-generation ELISA. Third-generation recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA) reacted at the same time as third-generation ELISA. Of the first specimens that were positive in second-generation ELISA, 44 percent reacted and 56 percent were indeterminate in third-generation RIBA, while 10 percent reacted, 72 percent were indeterminate, and 18 percent did not react in second-generation RIBA. From the beginning to the end of the follow-up, antibody to c33c was the most prevalent, followed in descending order by antibody to c22-3, antibody to c100-3, and antibody to NS5: 56, 54, 26, and 18 percent, respectively, at time 0, and 100, 86, 83, and 31 percent, respectively, 12 months later.

CONCLUSION: Third-generation assays (both ELISA and RIBA) were more sensitive than second-generation assays in the diagnosis of HCV infection, in that positive results were obtained earlier and a higher proportion of specimens were confirmed positive in RIBA testing