In continuous surveillance of routine samples from five Dutch laboratories, we studied resistance to the antibiotics most commonly prescribed for urinary tract infections (UTI) in The Netherlands, namely norfloxacin, amoxycillin, trimethoprim and nitrofurantoin, from 1989 to 1998 in >90000 Escherichia coli isolates. Resistance to norfloxacin increased from 1.3% in 1989 to 5.8% in 1998. Multiresistance, defined as resistance to norfloxacin and at least two of the other three antibiotics, increased from 0.5% in 1989 to 4. 0% in 1998. Multivariate analysis of the norfloxacin resistance demonstrated that this yearly increase (the odds ratio was 1.0 in 1989, 1.6 in 1992, 2.9 in 1995 and 6.1 in 1998) was independent of other determinants of resistance to norfloxacin, such as age, gender and origin of the isolate. Analysis of strata, classified by year, age and gender, demonstrated an association between prescription of fluoroquinolones (defined daily doses per case of UTI) and resistance to norfloxacin in E. coli (P < 0.001). There was no significant association with the prescription of nitrofuran derivatives (nitrofurantoin) and trimethoprim with or without sulphamethoxazole. The yearly increase of resistance to fluoroquinolones in E. coli from UTI may stem from increased prescription of fluoroquinolones for UTI. Resistance of E. coli to these agents is likely to increase further as fluoroquinolone use increases in future.