BACKGROUND: The purpose of this study was to compare the performances of HCV core antigen (HCV Ag) testing with HCV RNA detection during the preseroconversion period.
STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: Six HCV antibody (HCV Ab)-negative and HCV RNA-positive blood samples from 6 donors and 135 serial samples from 28 patients who had undergone hemodialysis, collected a mean of 90 days before the detection of HCV Ab, were tested by ELISA for the detection of HCV Ag and by PCR to quantify HCV RNA.
RESULTS: Five of the six donors were positive for HCV Ag. The donor with a negative HCV Ag test had the lowest viral load. In the hemodialysis patients, the 43 first specimens of the series were HCV RNA negative. Of the 92 specimens that were HCV RNA positive, 81 (88%) were positive for HCV Ag. Among the 74 samples with more than 105 RNA copies, 71 (96%) were HCV Ag positive. Average time from first viremic bleed to first HCV Ag-positive bleed was estimated at 2.0 days and that to first HCV Ab-positive bleed at 50.8 days.
CONCLUSION: HCV Ag testing permits the detection of an HCV infection about 1.5 months earlier than the HCV Ab screening tests and an average of only 2 days later than quantitative HCV RNA detection in individual specimens.