Sixteen classical swine fever virus (CSFV) field isolates from outbreaks of classical swine fever from the period between February 1997 and March 1998 in the Netherlands were sequence analysed. Parts of the 5' noncoding region (5'NCR) and the E1/E2 gene were sequenced after RT-PCR. The obtained sequences were compared with isolates of recent outbreaks in Europe and those of former outbreaks in the Netherlands. Sequence alignment of the 5'NCR region (321bp) revealed that the isolates of the Dutch outbreak of 1997-1998 were closely linked to an isolate of the CSF outbreak that started in Paderborn, Germany in 1996. A relatively large fragment of the E1/E2 gene of 850bp, including the antigenic region of E2, which is one of the most variable regions of the CSFV genome, was sequenced to determine whether this region can be used for epidemiology within an epizootic. Epidemiological tracing of transmission of virus was followed, starting from the first isolate and a line of five generations of viruses was analysed. Besides this, new isolates which could not be epidemiologically linked to preceding ones were also characterised. Differences between the isolates of the Dutch outbreak were minor both for the linked as well as for the non-linked isolates, indicating that all isolates have a common origin. Furthermore, our data show for the first time the genetic stability of CSFV even in the highly variable antigenic region of the E2 gene during a major epidemic lasting more than 1 year.