Chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common reason for liver transplantation. We examined the results of laboratory tests for HCV on a cohort of patients who received a liver transplant between 1990 and 1994 at three large centers. Seven hundred twenty-two recipients and 604 donors were tested for antibody to HCV (anti-HCV) using a second-generation enzyme-linked immunoassay (EIA-2), followed by recombinant immunoblot (RIBA- 2) and HCV RNA confirmation by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) (with genotyping and viral quantification). Diagnosis of posttransplantation infection required detection of serum HCV RNA that could be genotyped by sequencing or was repeatedly positive despite being unsequenceable. Twenty-five percent of transplantation candidates were seropositive for anti-HCV. Approximately 86% of anti-HCV-positive, 93% of RIBApositive, and 97% of HCV RNA-positive candidates developed infection after transplantation. Pretransplantation HCV RNA was superior to RIBA-2 for predicting posttransplantation infection. Whereas HCV genotype was identified in nearly all candidates and changed little after transplantation, serum viral levels rose markedly after transplantation. Fifteen donors were either anti-HCV- or HCV RNA-positive. Recipients of grafts from donors with HCV RNA all developed infection, whereas infection was not detected in recipients of grafts from donors with anti-HCV but without detectable HCV RNA. The rate of new infection fell significantly (P = .02) after the introduction of EIA-2 screening of blood. Donor and candidate markers for HCV predict posttransplantation infection.
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