A study of antibody prevalence for hepatitis A virus (HAV) and hepatitis E virus (HEV) was carried out in southwestern Vietnam in an area adjacent to a known focus of epidemic HEV transmission. The purpose of this investigation was first to provide a prevalence measure of hepatitis infections, and second to determine the outbreak potential of HEV as a function of the susceptible population. Blood specimens collected from 646 persons in randomly selected village hamlets were examined by an ELISA for anti-HEV IgG and anti-HAV IgG. The prevalences of anti-HEV IgG and anti-HAV IgG were 9% and 97%, respectively. There was a significant increase (P < 0.01) in age-specific anti-HEV IgG. A notable increase in anti-HAV IgG prevalence (P < 0.0001) occurred between child populations 0-4 (64%) and 5-9 (95%) years of age. No evidence of familial clustering of anti-HEV IgG-positive individuals was detected, and household crowding was not associated with the spread of HEV. Boiling of water was found to be of protective value against HEV transmission. A relatively low prevalence of anti-HEV indicates considerable HEV outbreak potential, against a background of 1) poor, water-related hygiene/sanitation, 2) dependence on a (likely human/animal waste)-contaminated Mekong riverine system, and 3) periodic river flooding.