There is growing concern that tuberculosis is spread in Europe in the way that it is in the USA. We have used DNA "fingerprinting" in a systematic evaluation of tuberculosis cases notified in our community to uncover foci of transmission. An IS6110 probe was used to test all isolates from culture-confirmed tuberculosis cases (163 patients) notified in 1991-92 in the Canton of Berne. In total, 45 patients (27.6%), potentially linked on the basis of restriction fragment length polymorphism, were investigated epidemiologically. The largest group (n = 22) included members of a defined social group (drug addicts, homeless persons, alcoholics), from whom tuberculosis spread to the general population. A key patient developed multidrug-resistant tuberculosis during the surveillance period. This population study showed that (i) extensive transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis is now taking place in Europe in the same social setting as in the USA; (ii) there is definite "spillover" to the general population; (iii) the dimensions of the problem cannot be recognised easily by routine public health service activities because of the complexity of the transmission network; and (iv) multidrug-resistant tuberculosis develops in this setting.