Atypical mycobacterial disease has been described in a small number of patients with cystic fibrosis. Apart from one uncontrolled study, there is little information regarding atypical mycobacterial skin reactivity in this group of patients. We evaluated delayed cutaneous hypersensitivity to purified extracts of Mycobacterium avium, Mycobacterium intracellular, Mycobacterium kansasii and Mycobacterium bovis in 23 healthy controls and 43 adult and adolescent patients with cystic fibrosis. Fifteen of the cystic fibrosis group were receiving regular corticosteroids. Additionally, direct smear examination and Lowenstein Jensen culture were performed on sputum from the cystic fibrosis group. The prevalence of positive skin reactions was similar in the group with cystic fibrosis (30%) and in the control group (57%). Subgroup analysis showed that those cystic fibrosis patients receiving corticosteroids had a markedly lower prevalence of positive reactions (7%) compared to controls (P less than 0.01). When this subgroup was excluded from analysis, the prevalence of positive skin reactions among patients with cystic fibrosis was 43%. In the prospective sputum bacteriology study, one of the 43 cases grew Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare and had clinical and radiological evidence of this disease. Of note, this patient showed positive skin tests to all four mycobacterial species tested. Our data show no difference in the prevalence rate of positive skin reactions to atypical mycobacterial antigens between a control population and an adult cystic fibrosis population. In addition, the predictive value of skin testing is low in cystic fibrosis due to the high prevalence of cross-reactivity between different mycobacterial species and the high prevalence of anergy among those patients with advanced disease receiving treatment with corticosteroids.