We assessed prognostic factors in 115 patients with serologically defined fulminant hepatitis B. The diagnosis in each case was based on the finding of IgM antibody to the hepatitis B core antigen in serum. Multivariate analysis showed that factor V level (p less than 0.001), patient's age (p = 0.001), absence of detectable HBsAg by radioimmunoassay (p = 0.06) and serum alpha-fetoprotein concentration (p = 0.07) were independent predictors of survival. The survival rate in the 21 patients in whom HBsAg was not detected was 47%, which was significantly higher than the survival rate of 17% observed in the 94 HBsAg-positive patients (p = 0.006). In patients with fulminant hepatitis B, the absence of HBsAg in serum as detected by radioimmunoassay has an independent, favorable prognostic value.