A specific assay has been developed for a blood-borne non-A, non-B hepatitis (NANBH) virus in which a polypeptide synthesized in recombinant yeast clones of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is used to capture circulating viral antibodies. HCV antibodies were detected in six of seven human sera that were shown previously to transmit NANBH to chimpanzees. Assays of ten blood transfusions in the United States that resulted in chronic NANBH revealed that there was at least one positive blood donor in nine of these cases and that all ten recipients seroconverted during their illnesses. About 80 percent of chronic, post-transfusion NANBH (PT-NANBH) patients from Italy and Japan had circulating HCV antibody; a much lower frequency (15 percent) was observed in acute, resolving infections. In addition, 58 percent of NANBH patients from the United States with no identifiable source of parenteral exposure to the virus were also positive for HCV antibody. These data indicate that HCV is a major cause of NANBH throughout the world.