A study was conducted in order to determine whether children that slept under untreated bednets were protected against both malaria infection and clinical disease compared with children not sleeping under bednets. The study was conducted in Kilifi District, Kenya, during the malaria season (June-August, 2000) and involved 416 children aged < or = 10 years. Data collected from a cross-sectional survey showed evidence of protection against malaria infection among children sleeping under untreated bednets in good condition compared with those not using nets (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.4, 95% CI 0.22-0.72, P = 0.002). There was no evidence of a protective effect against infection when comparing those that used untreated bednets that were worn and those not using nets (AOR = 0.75, 95% CI 0.34-1.63, P = 0.47). When these same children were followed-up during the malaria season, there was evidence of a lower rate of clinical malaria among those that used untreated nets in good condition (adjusted incidence rate ratio = 0.65, 95% CI 0.45-0.94, P = 0.022), while the rate of clinical malaria among those that used untreated bednets that were worn was similar to that of those that did not use bednets. In the face of persistent failure of communities to take up net retreatment, there is hope that untreated nets will offer some protection against malaria infection and disease compared with not using nets at all.