Representative isolates of Pseudomonas cepacia from 15 cystic fibrosis (CF) patients attending the Respiratory Unit of Alder Hey Childrens' Hospital were investigated by SDS-PAGE of whole-cell polypeptides and by pyrolysis mass spectroscopy (PMS). SDS-PAGE was less discriminatory than PMS. Eleven isolates were indistinguishable by PMS and considered to represent re-isolates of an endemic strain; four isolates were distinct from this group, and from one another. P. cepacia was first isolated on the unit in July 1989 from a patient who had attended a UK selection meeting for a Canadian CF camp. A ward and outpatient segregation policy was introduced, but colonisation of further patients occurred. In August 1991, the Adult CF Association recommended that all social activities involving colonised patients should cease. This, and an increased awareness amongst older CF patients of the risks of person-to-person transmission, was associated with a marked decline in new cases. Social activity and hospital admissions were compared for colonised patients during the year before colonisation with P. cepacia, and matched patients who did not acquire the endemic strain. This showed a significantly higher attendance at CF social events for colonised patients, but no significant association between colonisation and hospital admission. These results are strong indirect evidence that transmission of P. cepacia occurs through social contact outside the hospital environment.