In some, but not all countries, porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) has been associated with chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Recently, PCT has also been associated with mutations in the HFE gene that are associated with HLA-linked hereditary hemochromatosis. Until now, few studies of these associations have been reported from North America. The aims of this study were: 1) to assess the prevalence of HCV infection and HFE mutations in North American patients with PCT; 2) to compare demographic and laboratory features between those who are HCV-positive and HCV-negative; and 3) to study urinary porphyrin excretions in American HCV-positive patients without clinically manifest PCT. Clinical and laboratory data, including tests for HCV and urinary porphyrins, were collected from 70 unselected patients with typical PCT. Urinary porphyrins were also measured in 110 non-PCT patients with chronic hepatitis C. Mutational analyses of the HFE gene were performed in 26 PCT patients. Thirty-nine of 70 (56%) of the PCT patients had evidence of HCV infection. Thirty-two of 39 PCT patients with HCV were men, all of whom used alcohol. In contrast, 22 of 31 PCT patients without HCV infection were women, 12 of whom had taken estrogens. The HCV-positive group was more likely to have used illicit intravenous drugs (45% vs. 0%; P = 0.01), to have had several (>4) sex partners (48% vs. 13%; P = 0.005), and less likely to have no known risk factors for HCV infection (33% vs. 78%; P = 0.004). Total urinary porphyrin excretion was the same in the two groups, but those with HCV infection had a significantly lower percentage of uroporphyrin and higher percentages of hepta-and hexa-carboxy porphyrins in urine. Sixteen of 110 (15%) HCV-positive subjects without PCT had increased urinary porphyrins, but, unlike PCT, these were mainly coproporphyrin. Forty-two percent of PCT patients carried the C282Y mutation of HFE (15% homozygous), and another 31% carried the H63D mutation (8% homozygous). Thus, 73% of PCT patients had one of these mutations. The prevalence of HCV infection (56%) and mutations in the HFE gene (73%) are high among North American patients with PCT. Alcohol and estrogen use are important additional risk factors. All PCT patients should be tested for HCV infection and for HFE gene mutations. Although HCV infection is a trigger for PCT, preclinical PCT is rare in chronic HCV hepatitis C in the United States.