Summary. Twenty to 40% of hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected patients do not have a recognized parenteral risk factor suggesting that still-unidentified modes of transmission exist. In order to investigate potential routes of HCV transmission for patients with no recognized parenteral risk factor, we conducted a multicentre case–control study. A total of 450 HCV-seropositive patients with no history of transfusion or intravenous drug use and 757 controls were recruited from the general population and matched for sex, age, geographical residence and number of chronic diseases. All subjects answered an interviewer-administered questionnaire on potential risk factors for HCV. Eighty per cent of cases had chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. Respective percentages of genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 were 65, 14, 11, 5 and 4. Among the 66 items considered, multivariate analysis identified 15 independent risk factors for HCV infection: nosocomial [admission to medical (odds ratio, OR = 2.1) or surgical ward (OR = 1.7), digestive endoscopy (OR = 1.9), abortion (OR = 1.7)], outpatient treatments [cutaneous ulcer and wound care (OR = 10.1), diathermy (OR = 3.0), gamma globulin (OR = 1.7), intravenous (OR = 1.7) or intramuscular (OR = 1.4) injections, varicose vein sclerotherapy (OR = 1.6), acupuncture (OR = 1.5)] and lifestyle-associated [intranasal cocaine use (OR = 4.5), practice of contact sports (OR = 2.3), beauty treatments (OR = 2.0), professional pedicure/manicure (OR = 1.7)]. These factors could explain 73% of community-acquired hepatitis C. In conclusion, for patients with unexplained routes of HCV infection, our data incriminate previously unidentified risk factors (abortions, some dermatological procedures, outpatient injections, contact sports, beauty treatments, professional pedicure/manicure) and confirm those already recognized (hospitalization, digestive endoscopy, acupuncture and intranasal cocaine use).