The present study was undertaken to clarify the role of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and transbronchial biopsy (TBB) in the diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis in patients at risk for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. We retrospectively identified 31 patients at risk for HIV who proved to have Mycobacterium tuberculosis on culture of at least one pulmonary specimen. All had pulmonary symptoms but initial sputum smears negative for acid-fast bacilli (AFB). All underwent fiberoptic bronchoscopy (FOB), including BAL and TBB; postbronchoscopy sputum was also collected in 19 patients. A specimen was considered to yield an immediate diagnosis when positive for AFB either on smear or histologic study; granulomas alone were considered positive when no other causes were identified. Overall, an immediate diagnosis was made by bronchoscopic specimens in 15 (48 percent) of 31 cases. TBB was the sole positive specimen in seven patients (23 percent). For comparison, similar specimens from 40 patients in whom M avium complex (MAC) grew on culture were also evaluated. An immediate identification of AFB was made in only four patients (10 percent). We conclude that the finding of AFB on staining of any pulmonary specimen is highly suggestive of tuberculosis, rather than MAC, and warrants institution of antituberculosis therapy. Of all bronchoscopic specimens, TBB provides the highest yield for an immediate diagnosis of tuberculosis.