To determine the excess hospital cost attributable to hospital acquired infection in a UK hospital 67 surgical patients with hospital acquired infection (HAI) were matched with uninfected controls on the primary features of the first operative procedure and primary diagnosis, and on the secondary features of sex, age and surgical service. Costs were calculated from the hospital's unit costs for pathology, radiology and for the cost of one day's extra stay. The mean cost of one day of antibiotic therapy was also measured. In infected patients there was a significant increase in the length of hospital stay of 8.2 days with a mean extra cost per patient of 1041 pounds (P < 0.001). Microbiology, haematology, chemical pathology and radiology requests were all significantly increased with a mean extra cost per infected patient of 10.4 pounds, 7.8 pounds, 96. pounds, and 3.3 pounds, respectively. Antibiotic therapy contributed significantly to the extra costs (44 pounds per infected patient). The mean extra cost per patient was highest in orthopaedic patients (2646 pounds) and least in gynaecology patients (404 pounds). For the infections with significantly increased cost, multiple infections carried the greatest (3362 pounds), and urinary tract infections the least (467 pounds) cost. Hospital length of stay was the greatest contributor to the cost and accounted for 95% of the extra cost in orthopaedics, 94% in gynaecology and 92% in general surgery and urology. Antibiotic therapy was the second most significant contributor to cost and, with the exception of urinary tract infection and infections in gynaecology, was at least five times more per patient than requests for microbiology, haematology, chemical pathology or radiology.