BACKGROUND/AIMS: To understand the intrafamilial transmission and the existing risk factors related to HCV infection in subjects confirmed anti-HCV positive, their sexual partners and household contacts in Friuli, North-East Italy. METHODS: We enrolled all the subjects that were consecutively identified as HCV positive during routine laboratory testing in six health districts and their household contacts. From each subject we obtained a blood sample, demographic data and a medical history including the existence of risk factors for HCV. Antibodies to HCV were detected employing a commercially available second-generation enzyme immunoassay (EIA); positive serum specimens were retested using a second-generation recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA-2). RESULTS: We recruited 743 subjects, 229 first subjects identified as HCV positive and 514 household contacts. There were no statistically significant differences in positivity among household contacts. Analysing intracouple transmission we found no significant differences by gender in couples both with and without parenteral risk factors. We found, both with univariate and multivariate analysis, as statistically significant risk factors in all the subjects: age older than 60, blood transfusions (particularly those performed before 1984), surgical procedures such as abortion and/or uterine curettage, history of HBV infection, intravenous drug use, and tattooing. CONCLUSIONS: Our results stress the low relevance of sexual transmission in the intrafamilial context, the importance of abortion and/or uterine curettage, the important role of blood transfusions in the past, a higher prevalence of HCV infection within a household of a HCV positive member compared to all other existing data in the area.