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Screening for hepatitis C virus infection in a high prevalence country by an antigen/antibody combination assay versus a rapid test.

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In low-income-countries, screening for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is often based on rapid tests (RT). Their lower sensitivity compared to enzyme immunoassay (EIA) suggests that newer HCV Antigen/Antibody (Ag/Ab) combination assays might have a role in such countries. To test this idea, 1998 blood donors were tested at the University Teaching Hospital blood bank in Yaoundé, Cameroon simultaneously with a RT (HCV rapid test, Human Diagnostics, Berlin, Germany) according to standard practice (S1) and with an Ag/Ab assay (Monolisa HCV Ag/Ab Ultra, Biorad, France) (S2). All discordant, borderline and reactive samples were submitted to confirmatory testing by immunoblot and/or HCV-RNA. Of the 86 (4.3%) samples positive with one or both strategies, 29 were confirmed negative, 37 positive and 20 were false positive or resolved infection. There was a significant difference in test sensitivity (p=0.01) between S1 (70.3%) and S2 (91.9%) but not in test specificity (99.4% and 98.6%, respectively). The benefit of the Ag/Ab assay in the detection of recent HCV seronegative infections could not be evaluated since no Antigen-only donations were identified. However, better Ag/Ab test sensitivity compared to RT supports the implementation of these newer immunoassays for HCV screening in the African blood bank setting.

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