When hepatitis C virus antibody (anti-HCV) enzyme immunoassay (EIA1) testing became available in 1990, we tested samples from previously transfused blood units, traced the recipients of reactive units, and evaluated the recipients for HCV infection during the 12 months after transfusion. Ten of 42 recipients of EIA1-reactive blood were anti-HCV reactive on follow-up by EIA1 and 12 were reactive by a second- generation assay (EIA2). Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) detected HCV RNA in 5 seronegative recipients. In all, 17 of 42 recipients (40%) of EIA1-reactive blood had evidence of HCV infection. In comparison, 54 surgery patients, who received either no transfusion or autologous EIA1-nonreactive blood, remained EIA1 nonreactive and RT-PCR negative for 1 year; 1 patient (1.8%) became EIA2 reactive (P < or = .01). Of the recipients of anti-HVC reactive blood transfusions (reactive by both EIA1 and a supplemental 4-antigen strip immunoblot assay [RIBA2]), 14 (93%) of the recipients had evidence of HCV infection compared with only 3 of 27 recipients (11%) of EIA1-reactive, RIBA2-nonreactive blood (P < or = .01). Thus, blood components reactive for anti-HCV EIA1 may have transmitted HCV up to 40% of the time, but blood components found reactive by both EIA1 and RIBA2 may transmit HCV with a frequency of greater than 90%.