The frequency of colonization and intracellular localization of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) in the lower respiratory tract was determined in healthy adults and in clinically stable and acutely ill chronic bronchitis (CB) patients. NTHi was recovered from bronchial wash or bronchial brush specimens in 6 of 23 (26%) stable CB patients and in 1 of 15 (7%) CB patients with a respiratory exacerbation. No NTHi (0 of 26) was recovered from lower tract specimens of healthy adults undergoing anesthesia for elective surgery. Molecular typing of NTHi strains revealed that five of nine patients with stable CB had different strains in upper respiratory tract and bronchial wash/brush specimens collected simultaneously. Four stable patients with CB had different strains recovered on repeat bronchoscopy. These results demonstrate the frequent colonization of the lower airways of stable CB patients with multiple strains of NTHi. Bronchial biopsies also were examined for intracellular NTHi by in situ hybridization and immunofluorescence microscopy. Intracellular NTHi were found in 0 of 7 healthy adults, 8 of 24 patients with clinically stable CB, and 13 of 15 acutely ill CB patients. This observation suggests a role for intracellular infection by NTHi in the pathogenesis of exacerbations of CB.