Diagnostic algorithm for chronic hepatitis C virus infection: role of the new HCV-core antigen assay.
BACKGROUND: The diagnosis of chronic hepatitis C virus infection is based on nucleic acid testing (NAT) for HCV-RNA. We evaluated whether total HCV core antigen testing could be a substitute for NAT testing. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Samples from 192 untreated chronic HCV positive patients previously tested for HCV-RNA by four different commercially available assays (SuperQuant, Amplicor HCV Monitor v 1.0 and v 2.0, Quantiplex) were tested for total HCV core antigen using the Ortho trak-C assay (Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Raritan, NJ, USA). Furthermore, 52 HCV-RNA positive paired serum and plasma samples were analysed. Finally, inter-assay coefficients of variation for core antigen were determined by repeated testing of 59 samples. RESULTS: 172/192 (89.6 %) samples from untreated HCV patients showed positive results with the trak-C assay. Importantly, all but two trak-C positive samples were NAT positive. Only four of the twenty trak-C negative samples tested positive by two NAT assays with viral loads below 30,000 copies/mL. Moreover, HCV core antigen levels correlated significantly with HCV-RNA levels (r > 0.72; p > 0.001), gave consistent results in paired serum and plasma samples (r = 0.991), and showed a very low inter-assay variability (r = 0.943) independent of genotype. CONCLUSION: Based on the performance characteristics, easiness of use, and potential lower cost of the core Ag assay, we propose an alternative testing algorithm for establishing the diagnosis of chronic HCV infection in which the trak-C assay could substitute for NAT as the first choice for detection of HCV viraemia in anti-HCV positive individuals. NAT would only be necessary in rare cases with low viral load.
Tillmann, HL; Wiegand, J; Glomb, I; Jelineck, A; Picchio, G; Wedemeyer, H; Manns, MP
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