Until 1991, the Russian city of Samara was largely isolated from other parts of Russia and the rest of the world. Very recently, Samara has seen an alarming increase in the incidence of hepatitis. The proportion of fulminant cases is unusually high. We wanted to assess the roles of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis D virus (HDV) in acute viral hepatitis in this region by analyzing the prevailing strains of both and by determining their genotypes and possible origin. Serum samples were screened for different serological markers and by PCR followed by direct sequencing. Of the 94 HBV-positive samples (80% of which were acute infections), 37 (39%) were also HDV positive. Sixty-seven percent of the patients had anti-HCV antibodies. Twenty-five percent of all patients in the study had fulminant hepatitis. Statistically significant sex differences were found among fulminant cases. For HBV, the core promoter sequences of 62 strains were determined and all but one were found to be of genotype D. None of these had any deletions. Only one strain, from a patient with fulminant fatal hepatitis, showed multiple mutations. The pre-S2 region sequences of 31 HBV strains were also compared. Phylogenetically, these fell into two distinct groups within genotype D, suggesting different origins. For HDV, part of the region encoding the δ-antigen was sequenced from four strains. All proved to be of genotype I and were similar to Far Eastern and Eastern European strains. The contribution of intravenous drug use to the sharp increase in viral hepatitis in this unique setting is discussed.