During a hospital outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) disease in 30 patients we studied the use of rifampin and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX) in managing asymptomatic carriers. The outbreak persisted despite control measures including "barrier" precautions, screening cultures, identification of affected persons and rapid hospital discharge of affected patients. The MRSA strain was susceptible to both rifampin and TMP/SMX and in vitro the combination was not antagonistic. Fourteen carriers received a five-day course of rifampin and TMP/SMX given by mouth. Twelve patients were evaluable. Cultures remained persistently positive in four patients, three of whom had foreign bodies that could not be removed. Among the eight with an initial response, two relapsed to the carrier state more than six months after treatment. During the study the outbreak resolved. These data suggest that rifampin and TMP/SMX may decrease the number of MRSA-colonized patients, but may not permanently eradicate the MRSA carrier state.