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New Data from MHRP Study Impacts Rapid Hepatitis C Test Used on Battlefield

August 28, 2012
Data from a recent MHRP study published in the journal, Transfusion, found that significant differences in reliability exist among rapid test kits used to identify hepatitis C (HCV) under adverse conditions on a battlefield.

Data from a recent MHRP study published in the journal, Transfusion, found that significant differences in reliability exist among rapid test kits used to identify hepatitis C (HCV) under adverse conditions on a battlefield. Preliminary data from study led the U.S. military to halt the use of the rapid test most commonly used in Iraq and Afghanistan to detect HCV in donated blood prior to an emergency blood transfusion.

“This research directly impacts care for the warfighter on the battlefield,” said LTC Robert O’Connell, M.D. of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and lead author of the study. “Emergency blood transfusion is a life-saving procedure commonly used on today’s battlefields; having reliable rapid tests to detect diseases like hepatitis prior to a transfusion is imperative for the health and well-being of our injured service members.”

Researchers selected five rapid tests for a comprehensive evaluation. Twenty-nine tests were initially identified, however, only five met pre-determined criteria to undergo comprehensive evaluation. Criteria included availability, ability to produce a positive result from an infected sample and/or instability in varied temperature environments.

Results suggest that a brand of rapid test other than what the military had been using to detect HCV in the field was superior and provided more accurate results in conditions similar to what is experienced on the battlefield. Using a test that can more accurately detect infection in potential donor blood would decrease the risk of transmitting HCV through a blood transfusion.

Current U.S. military clinical practice guidelines indicate the use of non-FDA compliant blood products voluntarily donated by other service members during mass casualties and after the stored blood supply is exhausted in order to prevent hemorrhagic shock. Accordingly, several measures are in place to protect this blood supply and include rapid diagnostic testing in the field for HCV as well as for hepatitis B and HIV. 

This research follows an earlier study by MHRP’s Hakre et al. published in 2010 in Transfusion that found one case of HCV infection associated with a battlefield blood transfusion among 761 blood recipients in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2007.