In order to improve our knowledge of the incidence of liver cirrhosis in Italy, we conducted two epidemiological studies. The first study showed that about 15% of asymptomatic subjects with persistent increase in alanine aminotransferase had histological evidence of cirrhosis. In this setting, cirrhosis was associated with viral aetiology in 91.4% of cases. In the second study, which enrolled cirrhosis patients from 13 centres from all regions of the country, viral infections were detected in 82.6% of patients, the large majority of whom, 71.2%, were positive for hepatitis C virus (HCV). Alcohol abuse was present in 8.7% of cases as exclusive aetiological factor. All the patients were classified according to Child-Pugh and were scored as class A in 62.4%, as class B in 23.8% and as class C in 13.8% of cases. The age distribution showed that about 55% of cirrhosis patients were under 60 years of age; 34.3% of them had a Child-Pugh score of class B or C. These data show that HCV infection represents the predominant aetiological factor of cirrhosis in Italy and that cirrhosis can be found frequently in asymptomatic subjects.