HBsAg was detected in 152 pregnant women among 6,605 (2.3%) screened in the prenatal clinics of four hospitals representative of the Paris metropolitan area. In 98% of cases, HBsAg positivity indicated chronic HBV carrier status. Among patients born out of continental France (47% of screened women, 79% of positive women) relative risk of chronic infection was 6 in Asians, 5.5 in Africans, and 4 in French women born in non-continental France. No significant difference in medical history was seen between HBsAg-positive and HBsAg-negative patients, in any of the birthplace groups. In women born out of continental France, number of children and crowding in the home were correlated with HBsAg-positivity; these correlations were not found in French women born in continental France. In non-African, non-Asian women, screening on the basis of medical, social and familial criteria (simulated in this study) would not be effective. Routine screening for HBsAg in pregnancy is advocated. The cost of the prevention of each case of perinatally acquired chronic HBV infection by routine screening followed by prophylactic treatment of a risk neonates was estimated at 180,000 French Francs (35,000 dollars). This approach is the only means of preventing the long-term life-threatening complications of chronic HBV infection in the 600 neonates born each year in France to HBsAg-positive mothers.