BACKGROUND AND AIM: In the developed world hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is predominantly associated with sharing contaminated equipment between injecting drug users (IDU). In developing countries inadequately sterilized medical equipment, transmission of infected blood and cultural practices have been implicated. Accurate risk factor assessment is essential for education targeted at risk reduction in culturally diverse populations. METHODS: Ninety Australian-born Caucasians and 72 South-east Asian (SEA) HCV patients attending a Melbourne hospital liver clinic completed a questionnaire which assessed risk factor profile, perceived risk factors, knowledge of risk factors and methods to minimize transmission. Medical records were audited to identify doctor assessment of risk factors. RESULTS: Risk factors in Caucasians were IDU, body piercing and tattooing (89%, 47% and 32%, respectively). Risk factors in SEA patients were injection therapy, dental therapy and surgery (89%, 70% and 38%, respectively). Most Caucasian patients (94%) correctly identified their mode of acquisition compared with 33% of SEA patients (P < 0.0001). Accurate risk factor documentation in medical records was more common in Caucasians (96 vs 32%; P < 0.0001). The majority of patients identified blood-to-blood and sexual/vertical transmission as important modes of acquisition. However, 33% of SEA patients believed transmission occurred through food, water and poor hygiene and 80% did not identify therapeutic injection or traditional medical practices as risk factors. Education provided to SEA patients did not address less well established routes of transmission. CONCLUSIONS: Ethnicity influences perception and knowledge of risk factors. Improved assessment of risk factors in high-risk ethnic groups is needed. Education should be culturally appropriate and address the concerns of all populations with HCV.