The development of policies to prevent nosocomial transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in hemodialysis units is critically dependent on the understanding of the relationship between tests for anti-HCV, HCV RNA, and HCV genotype and the patients' clinical characteristics. We tested sera from all patients on the renal transplant waiting list at the New England Organ Bank between November 1986 and June 1990 for anti-HCV by a third-generation enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA3) and a third-generation recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA3). All ELISA3-positive sera were tested for HCV RNA by reverse transcriptase "nested" polymerase chain reaction, and the genotype was characterized by restriction fragment length polymorphism. Sera were available in 1,544 of 3,243 (48%) patients on the waiting list, of whom 287 (19%) tested positive for anti-HCV by ELISA3. Two hundred eighty-six randomly selected, anti-HCV-negative patients served as controls. Compared with anti-HCV-negative controls, anti-HCV-positive patients had a longer duration since initiation of renal replacement therapy, higher number of previous kidney transplants and blood transfusions, higher proportion of patients with anti-HBc, history of liver disease, history of non-A, non-B hepatitis, and elevated serum alanine aminotransferase, and lower serum albumin concentrations. Of the 287 anti-HCV-positive sera, 261 (91%) were reactive by RIBA3, 21 (7%) were indeterminate, and five (2%) were nonreactive. HCV RNA was detected in 224 of 275 (81%) ELISA3-positive patients, in whom additional sera were available. There were no significant differences in clinical or laboratory characteristics between ELISA3-positive patients with and without HCV RNA. Genotypes 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, and 4 were present in 53%, 23%, 8%, 10%, 4%, and 2% of patients, respectively. Infection with one, two, or three different HCV genotypes was present in 92%, 7%, and 1%, respectively. There was no significant association between the type or number of HCV genotypes and RIBA3 reactivity. There were no major differences in clinical or laboratory characteristics between genotypes or between single and mixed infection. In summary, this study provides detailed information regarding the relationship between tests for anti-HCV, HCV RNA, and HCV genotypes and the clinical and laboratory characteristics of a large, well-characterized cohort of patients referred for renal transplant.