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The frequency of infection with the six classified major genotypes of hepatitis C virus (HCV) was investigated in 447 infected volunteer blood donors from the following nine countries: Scotland, Finland, The Netherlands, Hungary, Australia, Egypt, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Viral sequences in plasma from blood donors infected with HCV were amplified in the 5'-noncoding region and were typed by restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis. Electrophoresis of DNA fragments produced by cleavage with HaeIII-RsaI and ScrFI-HinfI allowed HCV types 1 (or 5), 2, 3, 4, and 6 to be identified. Further analysis with MvaI-HinfI allowed sequences of the type 5 genotype to be distinguished from sequences of the type 1 genotype. Types 1, 2, and 3 accounted for almost all infections in donors from Scotland, Finland, The Netherlands, and Australia. Types 2 and 3 were not found in the eastern European country (Hungary), where all but one of the donors were infected with type 1. Donors from Japan and Taiwan were infected only with type 1 or 2, while types 1, 2, and 6 were found in those from Hong Kong. HCV infection among Egyptians was almost always by type 4. Donors infected with HCV type 1 showed broad serological reactivity with all four antigens of the second generation Chiron RIBA-2 assay (Chiron Corporation, Emeryville, Calif.), while infection with divergent HCV genotypes elicited antibodies mainly reactive to c22-3 and c33c. Reactivities with antibodies 5-1-1 and c100-3 were infrequent and were generally weak, irrespective of the geographical origin of the donor. Because the envelope region of HCV is even more variable than the NS-4 region, it is likely that vaccines based on these proteins need to be multivalent and perhaps specifically adapted for different geographical regions.