Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be transmitted by organ transplantation. Cadaver organ donors are screened for HCV infection by testing for antibodies to HCV (anti-HCV). The prevalence of HCV infection and performance of anti-HCV tests in detecting HCV infection in organ donors are unknown. Sera from 3078 cadaver organ donors were tested for anti-HCV by a first generation enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA1). Sera from all 137 ELISA1 positive donors and a random sample of 92 ELISA1 negative donors were tested for anti-HCV by a second generation ELISA (ELISA2) and for HCV RNA by the polymerase chain reaction. Organ bank records were reviewed for risk factors associated with HCV infection. Follow-up was available on 70 recipients of organs from 42 ELISA2 positive donors. The prevalence of HCV RNA, extrapolated to all 3078 donors, was 2.4%. Liver disease, anti-HCV and HCV RNA were detected more frequently among recipients of organs from ELISA2 positive donors with HCV RNA than from ELISA2 positive donors without HCV RNA. Among donors, the sensitivity and negative predictive value of the ELISA2 for HCV RNA were 100%. However, despite a specificity of 98.1%, the positive predictive value was only 55.1%. Clinical and laboratory characteristics did not distinguish ELISA2 positive donors with and without HCV RNA. The presence of serum HCV RNA in organ donors predicts the risk of transmission of HCV infection. Discarding organs from ELISA2 positive donors would eliminate transmission, but organs from 1.88 percent of donors would be wasted. To reduce waste, it is necessary to develop confirmatory tests with a higher specificity for HCV RNA than those that are currently available.
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