The prevalence of antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) was determined in 498 hemodialysis patients from three german dialysis units, 121 staff members and 42 family members using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) of the second generation which detects antibodies to a structural (C22) and to non-structural (C33c, C100, 5-1-1) recombinant antigens to HCV. Using the second generation ELISA 115 patients (23.1%) were anti-HCV positive versus 77 (15.5%) when sera were tested by an ELISA of the first generation containing only a non-structural antigen (C100). In 34 of these 40 discordant sera antibodies against at least one viral protein was found by a recombinant immunoblot assay. Of 5 sera containing antibodies to only one viral protein (C22) 3 were HCV RNA positive by polymerase chain reaction. Epidemiological evaluation of the patients revealed that the prevalence of anti-HCV was correlated to the duration of dialysis but not to the number of blood transfusions. Of 121 staff members 2 (1.6%) and 2 of 42 family members (4.7%) were positive indicating a low risk of the patients' contacts of acquiring HCV infection.