The signs that may arise after perinatal infection with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) have been classified by the Centers for Disease Control, but the clinical usefulness of the classification system and the prognostic importance of each disease pattern have not been established. We sought to address these issues by analysing data from the Italian Register for HIV infection in children. We studied 1887 children born to HIV-1-seropositive mothers. 1045 were identified at birth and the others were registered later (median age 4.8 [range 0.4-72] months). HIV-1-associated signs developed in 433 (81.8%) of 529 seropositive infected children at a median age of 5 (0.03-84) months. These signs appeared significantly earlier in the 102 children who died of HIV-1-related illness than in those who are still alive (median 3 [0.03-55] vs 6 [0.03-84] months; p less than 0.001). The cumulative proportion surviving at age 9 years was 49.5% (95% confidence interval 27-65%) and the median survival time was 96.2 months. Separate analysis of the 112 seropositive infected children followed from birth and older than 15 months gave similar results. Hepatomegaly, splenomegaly, lymphadenopathy, parotitis, skin diseases, and recurrent respiratory tract infections formed the mildest disease pattern. Lymphoid interstitial pneumonitis and thrombocytopenia were signs of intermediate disease. By contrast, in multivariate analysis specific secondary infectious diseases, severe bacterial infections, progressive neurological disease, anaemia, and fever were significant and independent negative predictors of survival. Growth failure, persistent oral candidosis, hepatitis, and cardiopathy were associated in univariate analysis with significantly shorter survival. Our findings suggest that the outlook for children with perinatal HIV-1 infection is better than previously thought and that a new clinical staging system of single disease patterns is needed.