BACKGROUND: The clinical significance of anti-Trypanosoma cruzi low-level reactive samples is incompletely understood. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-positive rates and antibody levels among seropositive blood donors in three countries are described.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: Follow-up samples were collected from T. cruzi–seropositive donors from 2008 through 2010 in the United States (n = 195) and Honduras (n = 58). Also 143 samples from Brazil in 1996 to 2002, originally positive by three serologic assays, were available and paired with contemporary follow-up samples from these donors. All samples were retested with Ortho enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). PCR assays were performed on coded sample panels by two laboratories (Blood Systems Research Institute [BSRI] and American Red Cross Holland Laboratory [ARC]) that amplified kinetoplast minicircle DNA sequences of T. cruzi.

RESULTS: PCR testing at BSRI yielded slightly higher overall sensitivity and specificity (33 and 98%) compared with those at the ARC (28 and 94%). Among seropositive donors, PCR-positive rates varied by country (p < 0.0001) for the BSRI laboratory: Brazil (57%), Honduras (32%), and the United States (14%). ELISA signal-to-cutoff ratios (S/CO) were significantly higher for PCR-positive compared to PCR-negative donors (p < 0.05 for all comparisons). Additionally, PCR-negative Brazilian donors exhibited greater frequencies of antibody decline over time versus PCR-positive donors (p = 0.003).

CONCLUSION: For all three countries, persistent DNA positivity correlated with higher ELISA S/CO values, suggesting that high-level seroreactivity reflects chronic parasitemia. Significant S/CO declines in 10% of the PCR-negative Brazilian donors may indicate seroreversion after parasite clearance in the absence of treatment.