A total of 166 episodes of fever in 162 children with sickle cell anaemia (SCA) aged between 6 months and 16 years who presented with rectal temperatures > or = 38.3 degrees C were studied for bacteraemia. Non-sicklers of similar ages and with similar temperatures were also studied as controls. Bacteraemia occurred in 32.5% (54) of children with SCA and in 26% (39) of controls. Gram-negative bacteria were the predominant organisms (70.4%) in SCA. The commonest organisms isolated were Salmonella (25.9%), Klebsiella (25.9%) and Staphylococcus aureus (22.2%). Gram-positive bacteria were the predominant organisms (51.3%) in controls, with Staphylococcus aureus accounting for 41% of all organisms isolated. In both groups, the incidence of bacteraemia decreased in children after the age of 10 years. Use of antibiotics prior to presentation in hospital was commoner among children with SCA (47.6%) than controls (14.7%). Antimicrobial agents were detected in the urine of 12 children with SCA and four controls whose parents denied prior antibiotic usage. The predominant organisms isolated were sensitive to gentamicin and 3rd-generation cephalosporins.