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The use of NAT technology to screen blood donations in Italy became mandatory on 28 June 2002, but had been available experimentally since 2001. During the transition period, an EIA test to detect hepatitis C core antigen (HCVcoreAg) had also been permitted. Considering the large number of blood transfusion centres in Italy, an initial reorganisation of the biological validation of blood units was necessary, with a partial centralisation of NAT testing. The Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio delle Malattie Trasmissibili con la Trasfusione (Italian Group for the Study of Transfusion-Transmissible Diseases) conducted a national survey evaluating NAT testing, based on an annual collection of data through a questionnaire sent to all centres. In the first three years of the investigation, 219 blood transfusion centres returned the questionnaires. In the period between January 2001 and December 2003, 3 894 894 blood donations were investigated for HCV RNA and 2 186 468 for HIV RNA. Of these, 12 were found to be HCV RNA positive and four HIV RNA positive, with an observed NAT versus antibody-based assay yield of 3.1/106 donations for HCV and 1.8/106 donations for HIV, respectively. Five of the 12 HCV RNA positive and anti-HCV negative donors had abnormal ALT values and their donations would have been discarded even in absence of NAT testing. Thus the final NAT yield for HCV is 1.79/106. The residual risk for HCV or HIV transmission by blood transfusion after NAT implementation is currently estimated to be extremely low in Italy.


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