Six major genotypes (genotypes 1-6) of hepatitis C virus (HCV) have been identified. These genetic variants are being transmitted to chimpanzees, the only recognized animal model for the study of HCV. Genotype 5a (strain SA13), a variant found primarily in South Africa, has been transmitted to chimpanzees for the first time. Experimental infection of 2 chimpanzees was characterized by early appearance of viremia and peak virus titers of 10(5)-10(6) genome equivalents/mL. The HCV infection was resolved by week 15 after inoculation in 1 chimpanzee and persisted in the other. Both chimpanzees became anti-HCV-positive by week 14 after inoculation. Both chimpanzees developed viral hepatitis. The infectivity titer of a genotype 5a challenge pool prepared from the first passage of HCV in a chimpanzee was approximately 10(4) infectious doses/mL. Finally, sequence analysis of strain SA13 confirmed that genotype 5a is genetically distinct from other genotypes of HCV.