Background. Outbreaks of acute hepatitis B among inmates of 6 prisons in 3 regions of northern England occurring from 1992 through 1994 were found to be associated with a single hepatitis B virus (HBV) variant, which was carried by 20 of the 24 case patients. We instigated a study of cases of acute hepatitis B to trace the spread and prevalence of this variant. Methods. A denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis assay was optimized to detect the HBV variant, and cases of acute HBV infection in 3 regions in England occurring from 1990 through 1996 were screened for its presence. Samples from HBV-transmission incidents that were received for molecular investigation were also tested. Results. The variant was identified in 117 (41%) of the 266 cases of acute hepatitis examined in representative regions in England. In North Humberside, but not in southeast England or the West Midlands, a trend toward an increase in the prevalence of the variant was observed. Furthermore, the same variant was identified in the case patients or the individuals implicated in transmission in 11 (22%) of 51 transmission incidents occurring in England from 1997 through 2002. The spread of the variant was primarily associated with injection drug use. Conclusions. The finding of a single, genetically identical variant (over the 600 bp sequenced) occupying a large niche among the circulating viruses was unexpected. This finding has major implications for the use of DNA sequencing analysis in the investigation of chains of transmission. The study also highlights the need for better protection of at-risk groups through vaccination against HBV, a strategy that currently achieves poor coverage.