The distribution of large conjugative Haemophilus influenzae plasmids in the nasopharyngeal haemophili of a group of people and in a large collection of 541 H. influenzae type b (Hib) isolates was studied. A newly developed PCR-based assay was used to detect the plasmids. The target sequences were chosen from sequence analysis of part of p1056, a large multiresistance plasmid isolated from a clinical Hib isolate, 1056. Fifty-nine per cent of people were found to carry beta-lactamase-positive (beta-lac(+)), ampicillin-resistant (ampR) haemophili with detectable plasmid sequences. Of these, 83% were in Haemophilus parainfluenzae and 17% were in H. influenzae. In the collection of 541 Hib, antibiotic resistance [beta-lac(+)ampR, beta-lac(+)ampR plus tetracycline resistance (tetR) or tetR] was highly correlated with large plasmids. It was found that 2.3% of the isolates contained large cryptic plasmids (i.e. these isolates were susceptible to antibiotics). The distribution of plasmids between invasive and carried Hib did not differ significantly (25 of 245 and 23 of 276, respectively). Isolates with large plasmids occur at high frequency in the nasopharynx of the normal human population and consist of two populations in Hib, one associated with specific antibiotic resistance traits and the other cryptic. These plasmids do not appear to influence the invasiveness of Hib.