Acute and chronic respiratory diseases, which are causally linked to exposure to indoor air pollution in developing countries, are the leading cause of global morbidity and mortality. Efforts to develop effective intervention strategies and detailed quantification of the exposure-response relationship for indoor particulate matter require accurate estimates of exposure. We used continuous monitoring of indoor air pollution and individual time-activity budget data to construct detailed profiles of exposure for 345 individuals in 55 households in rural Kenya. Data for analysis were from two hundred ten 14-hour days of continuous real-time monitoring of concentrations of particulate matter [less than/equal to] 10 microm in aerodynamic diameter and the location and activities of household members. These data were supplemented by data on the spatial dispersion of pollution and from interviews. Young and adult women had not only the highest absolute exposure to particulate matter (2, 795 and 4,898 microg/m(3) average daily exposure concentrations, respectively) but also the largest exposure relative to that of males in the same age group (2.5 and 4.8 times, respectively). Exposure during brief high-intensity emission episodes accounts for 31-61% of the total exposure of household members who take part in cooking and 0-11% for those who do not. Simple models that neglect the spatial distribution of pollution within the home, intense emission episodes, and activity patterns underestimate exposure by 3-71% for different demographic subgroups, resulting in inaccurate and biased estimations. Health and intervention impact studies should therefore consider in detail the critical role of exposure patterns, including the short periods of intense emission, to avoid spurious assessments of risks and benefits.