This study assessed the effectiveness of a fully automated surveillance system for the detection of healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) in intensive care units. Manual ward surveillance (MS) and electronic surveillance (ES) were performed for two intensive care units of the Vienna General Hospital. All patients admitted for a period longer than 48 h between 13 November 2006 and 7 February 2007 were evaluated according to HELICS-defined rules for HCAI. The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), negative predictive value (NPV) and personnel time spent per surveillance type were calculated. Ninety-three patient admissions were observed, whereby 30 HCAI episodes were taken as a reference standard. Results with MS versus ES were: sensitivity 40% versus 87%, specificity 94% versus 99%, PPV 71% versus 96%, NPV 80% versus 95%, and time spent per surveillance type 82.5 h versus 12.5 h. In conclusion, ES was found to be more effective than MS while consuming fewer personnel resources.