A new, sensitive enzyme immunoassay has been developed for detecting and quantifying total hepatitis C virus (HCV) core antigen in anti-HCV positive or negative sera (‘‘trak-CTM’’, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Raritan, NJ). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the performance of trak-C as an additional laboratory diagnostic marker of viraemia. The performance was compared to HCV-RNA detection in the ‘‘screening’’ of sera from a large heterogeneous population of hospitalised patients and outpatients. Six hundred and eighteen anti-HCV negative sera, 405 anti-HCV positive/HCV-RNA negative sera, 604 anti-HCV positive/HCV-RNA positive sera and 67 anti-HCV negative sera containing antigens or antibodies potentially interfering with the performance of the assay were analysed. Supplemental HCV antibody testing was performed using a commercial strip immunoblot assay. HCV-RNA was investigated using a qualitative commercial assay. A quantitative commercial RT-PCR was used for the analysis of selected samples. Sensitivity and specificity values were 94.7 and 100%, respectively. The latter was also confirmed when anti-HCV negative samples containing potentially interfering antigens/antibodies were examined. Sensitivity below 100% was probably due to an antigenaemia below the detection limit of trak-C. Besides, because 65.6% of HCV-RNA positive/trak-C negative samples presented specific antibodies against all four RIBA antigens, the hypothesis was raised that, in some cases, the dissociation step efficiency could be sub-optimal. In conclusion, trak-C seems suitable for identifyingHCVinfection on large based populations. It is a rapid to perform, reliable and specific assay that can be adapted to any laboratory setting.
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