A major controversy regarding Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV or HHV8) is whether or not it is a ubiquitous infection of humans. Immunoassays based on KSHV- and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-coinfected cell lines show that most US AIDS-KS patients have specific antibodies to KSHV-related antigens. We have developed a sensitive indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) based on an EBV-negative, KSHV-infected cell line, BCP-1. When we used this IFA assay, KSHV-related antibodies were found in 71-88% of serum samples from US, Italian and Ugandan AIDS-KS patients, as well as all serum samples examined from HIV-seronegative KS patients. Although none of the US blood donors examined were KSHV seropositive by IFA, intermediate and high seroprevalence rates were found in Italian and Ugandan control populations. Antibody kinetics showed that more than half of the AIDS-KS patients who were examined IgG-seroconverted before KS development, and antibody levels did not decline after seroconversion. For these patients, seropositivity rates increased linearly with time, suggesting that the rate of infection was constant and that the risk of developing KS once infected with KSHV is not highly dependent on the duration of infection. These data strongly suggest that KSHV is not ubiquitous in most populations and that the virus may be under strict immunologic control in healthy KSHV-infected persons.