Because chronic liver disease may develop many years after acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, the past incidence of acute infections is a major determinant of the future burden of HCV-associated complications. We estimated past incidence of acute HCV infection using national seroprevalence data and relative age-specific incidence data from a sentinel counties surveillance system. Projections of the future prevalence of HCV-infected patients were derived from models that included an 85% drop in HCV infection incidence as observed for reported cases in the early 1990s. The models showed a large increase in the incidence of HCV infections from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The degree of increase was dependent on the assumed rate of antibody loss; a model with 2.5% annual antibody loss showed annual incidence increasing from 45,000 infections (95% confidence interval [95% CI]: 0-110,000) in the early 1960s to 380,000 infections (95% CI: 250,000 to 500, 000) in the 1980s. Projections showed that although the prevalence of HCV infection may be declining currently because of the decline in incidence in the 1990s, the number of persons infected for >/=20 years could increase substantially before peaking in 2015. If the incidence of new HCV infections does not increase in the future, persons born between 1940 and 1965 will be at highest lifetime risk of acquiring the infection.