BACKGROUND: The risk of hepatitis B virus (HBV) transmission by blood transfusion (estimated at 1 in 63,000-1 in 205,000 units in the United States) exceeds that of hepatitis C virus (HCV) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Reduction of window-period HBV transmissions through detection of HBV DNA–positive units by minipool nucleic acid testing (MP NAT) would be expected to decrease this risk.
STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: A large multicenter study of the COBAS AmpliScreen HBV test (Roche Molecular Systems) was conducted on minipools of 24 blood donation specimens. The yield of HBV DNA–positive, hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)-negative window-period donations was determined relative to current and newly licensed HBsAg assays. Donors with selected HBV DNA, HBsAg, and anti-hepatitis B core antigen (HBc) results were further evaluated.
RESULTS: The detection rate of window-period units was 1 in 352,451 (95% confidence interval, 1 in 2,941,176-1 in 97,561). Assay specificity was high (99.9964%). HBV DNA was detected in 84 percent of HBsAg-positive, anti-HBc–positive donations by MP NAT and in 94 percent when individual-donation (ID) NAT was added. HBV DNA was detected in 0.03 percent of HBsAg-negative, anti-HBc–positive donations by MP NAT and in 0.41 percent when ID NAT was added.
CONCLUSIONS: Implementation of HBV MP NAT will provide an increment in safety relative to HBV serologic screening, similar to that for HCV and in excess of that for HIV. Our data indicate that the implementation of HBV MP NAT would likely interdict 39 HBV window-period units and prevent 56 cases of transfusion-transmitted HBV infection annually. The current data indicate that HBV MP NAT should not lead to discontinuation of anti-HBc testing but that discontinuation of HBsAg testing with retention of anti-HBc testing may be possible.