An open, randomized, multicentre study compared the efficacy and safety of the prototype, azalide, azithromycin, and erythromycin in the treatment of atypical pneumonias. Azithromycin was administered for five days at a dosage of 250 mg bd on day 1 and 250 mg once daily on days 2 to 5. Erythromycin was given for ten days at 500 mg qid. Causative pathogens were identified by serological methods. Of 57 patients treated with azithromycin, Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydia psittaci were identified in 31 and eight patients, respectively. Of 44 patients treated with erythromycin, M. pneumoniae and C. psittaci were identified in 24 and eight patients, respectively. There were no therapeutic failures in either treatment group. Side effects were observed in one of 57 patients on azithromycin and in six of 44 patients on erythromycin. Azithromycin appears to be as effective as erythromycin in the treatment of atypical pneumonias and better tolerated.