Seven strains of Campylobacter jejuni, isolated from various sources [human (n = 2), chicken (n = 3), water (n = 2)], were studied under starvation conditions in filter-sterilized and pasteurized surface water by acridine orange direct count (AODC), viable count (DVC) and culture methods. Plate counts showed a rapid decline (2 log-units/day) for all strains under these conditions. Only one of the seven strains (14%) showed a (prolonged) viable, non-culturable 'state'. The ability of these viable, non-culturable cells to colonize the intestine was tested on day-old chicks. The infectious oral dose of freshly cultured cells of this model was 26-260 cfu; 1.8 x 10(5) viable, non-culturable C. jejuni were introduced to day-old chicks orally. Campylobacter jejuni was not isolated from the caeca of the chicks after incubation for 7 d. Also, passage through the allantoic fluid of embryonated eggs did not recover viable, non-culturable C. jejuni. These findings cast serious doubts on the significance of the viable, non-culturable 'state' in environmental transmission of C. jejuni.