In developed countries we tend to think of heart disease and the numerous forms of cancer as the main causes of mortality, but on a global scale infectious diseases come close, or may even be ahead: 14.9 million deaths in 2002 compared to cardiovascular diseases (16.9 million deaths) and cancer (7.1 million deaths) (WHO report 2004). The infectious agents responsible for human mortality have evolved as medical techniques and hygienic measures have changed. Modern-day acute infectious diseases caused by specialized bacterial pathogens such as diphtheria, tetanus, cholera, plague, which represented the main causes of death at the beginning of XX century, have been effectively controlled with antibiotics and vaccines. In their place, more than half of the infectious diseases that affect mildly immunocompromised patients involve bacterial species that are commensal with the human body; these can produce chronic infections, are resistant to antimicrobial agents and there is no effective vaccine against them. Examples of these infections are the otitis media, native valve endocarditis, chronic urinary infections, bacterial prostatitis, osteomyelitis and all the infections related to medical devices. Direct analysis of the surface of medical devices or of tissues that have been foci of chronic infections shows the presence of large numbers of bacteria surrounded by an exopolysaccharide matrix, which has been named the "biofilm". Inside the biofilm, bacteria grow protected from the action of the antibodies, phagocytic cells and antimicrobial treatments. In this article, we describe the role of bacterial biofilms in human persistent infections.