During recruitment to a prospective study of tuberculosis patients in Lusaka, Zambia, 109 had pulmonary disease proven by sputum culture for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, of whom 72 were HIV-1 antibody-positive and 37 were HIV-negative. Among these culture-proven cases, 43% of the HIV-positive patients had a negative sputum smear, compared with 24% of the HIV-negative cases. There was a strong trend towards lower grade or negative sputum smear in the HIV-positive group (P = 0.003). HIV-positive cases also had lower colony counts on culture and colonies took longer to appear. The findings imply that cases of HIV-associated pulmonary tuberculosis may frequently be missed and emphasise the need for new diagnostic methods.