Human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) has been identified as the causative agent for all forms of Kaposi's sarcoma and is also associated with the development of body cavity-based B-cell lymphomas and multicentric Castleman's disease. HHV-8 genomes are now classified into five major subtypes (A-E) that reflect sequence heterogeneity in the highly variable open reading frame (ORF) K1. To identify HHV-8 subtypes associated with different forms of Kaposi's sarcoma, we compared the ORF 26 and ORF-K1 gene sequences from South African patients with the prototype strains of the major subtypes, as well as published sequences from other African strains. DNA prepared from Kaposi's sarcoma biopsies and/or peripheral blood lymphocytes were available from 14 patients with postrenal transplant (iatrogenic) Kaposi's sarcoma, six patients with the African endemic form, and one patient with AIDS-related body cavity-based B-cell lymphoma. We identified a B2 subtype in six patients, four of whom also had a novel B5 type ORF 26 polymorphism. Two patients had B2 type patterns for both the ORF 26 and ORF-K1 genes. The ORF-K1 subtype A5 was identified in samples from three patients with a B3/C2 type polymorphism in the ORF 26 gene. A novel ORF-K1 B variant strain was identified in a patient with African endemic Kaposi's sarcoma, who also had a B3/C2 class ORF 26 pattern. In 58.3% of iatrogenic Kaposi's sarcoma patients, a B5-type ORF 26 gene sequence pattern was identified. No association was found among particular subtypes, geographical origin of patients, or clinical presentation.