In patients with Hodgkin's disease, titers of IgG antibody against viral capsid antigen of Epstein-Barr virus and the prevalence of antibodies against early antigen are higher than expected. To evaluate whether this condition antedates diagnosis, we identified 43 persons with Hodgkin's disease, from whom blood had been drawn and stored for an average of 50.5 months before diagnosis, and 96 controls from the same populations, from whom blood had been drawn at the same time. The relative risks of Hodgkin's disease associated with elevated levels of IgG and IgA antibodies against capsid antigen were 2.6 (90 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 6.1) and 3.7 (1.4 to 9.3), respectively. For Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen, the relative risk was 4.0 (1.4 to 11.4), and for early antigen D it was 2.6 (1.1 to 6.1). However, the prevalence of IgM antibody against capsid antigen was substantially lower in patients with Hodgkin's disease (0.22 [0.04 to 1.3]). These associations were stronger in serum samples obtained at least three years before diagnosis than in serum samples obtained closer to diagnosis. We conclude that the development of Hodgkin's disease may in some patients be preceded by enhanced activation of Epstein-Barr virus. Whether Epstein-Barr virus has a direct role in the pathogenesis of the disease or is simply a marker for a more fundamental factor affecting the immune control of latent infections is unknown.