IgG1 and IgG4 subclass antibody responses were investigated in two clinically different groups of hepatic cystic echinococcosis (CE) patients. One group consisted of surgically proven CE cases (clinically expressed hospitalized cases) and a second group comprised asymptomatic CE patients (first time community detected cases) diagnosed by portable ultrasound and serology in four different endemic communities. Fifty eight sera from surgically proven CE patients and 133 sera from asymptomatic ultrasound diagnosed CE cases were screened by ELISA using purified human hydatid cyst fluid antigen B for total specific IgG, IgG1 and IgG4 antibodies. Fifty sera from healthy individuals from within endemic regions were used as control negatives. Compared to control negatives total IgG antibody levels were elevated in both surgically proven (85%) and asymptomatic CE cases (77%) but there was no significant difference between the two groups. IgG1 subclass antibody levels were also elevated in both surgically proven (55%) and asymptomatic cases (58%) compared to endemic controls and similarly the difference in this response was not significant between these two groups. In contrast the prevalence of IgG4 antibodies in surgically confirmed chronic CE patients was greater (71%) than the respective IgG1 antibody levels (55%). The greatest difference in specific antibody response, between advanced surgically confirmed CE patients and ultrasound detected asymptomatic CE cases, was observed for IgG4 antibody levels which were detected in 71% of symptomatic compared to only 23% of asymptomatic patients (P < 0.0001). These observations confirm that IgG4 is an important diagnostic parameter for clinically expressed cystic echinococcosis in humans and suggest that a switch from a predominant IgG1 response to IgG4 might occur in CE patients as the disease progresses.