A method is described for identifying different genotypes of hepatitis C virus (HCV) by restriction endonuclease cleavage of sequences amplified by PCR from the 5′ non-coding region. Using the enzymes III-I and fI-I, followed by cleavage with U1 or FI, it was possible to identify and distinguish HCV genotypes 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5 and 6. The method was used to investigate the prevalence of these genotypes in 723 blood donors in 15 countries, the largest survey to date, and one which covered a wide range of geographical regions (Europe, America, Africa and Asia). These results, combined with a review of the existing literature, indicate the existence of several distinct regional patterns of HCV genotype distribution, and provide the framework for future detailed epidemiological investigations of HCV transmission.


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