Eighty-five consecutively seen HIV-positive persons with oral candidiasis were evaluated for clinical characteristics, staging of HIV disease, quantitation of candidal colony formation, and response to systemic antifungal treatment with Nizoral (ketoconazole). Fifty-five had CD4 counts less than 200. There was an inconsistent association between clinical signs, patient symptoms, CD4 counts, and candidal colony-forming units. However, there was a trend toward higher colony-forming unit counts (> 500) in patients with lower CD4 cells (< 200). Sixty-five patients had a complete clinical response to the ketoconazole treatment (200 mg daily for 7 days), even though 81% of posttreatment cultures remained positive. Nonsmokers were more likely to respond to antifungal treatment when compared with smokers, and there was a slight tendency for complete responses when colony-forming unit counts were low. The most common lesion presentation was a combination of the white (pseudomembranous) and red (erythematous) forms. Forty-nine percent had complaints of pain. The variable responses indicated the importance of flexible dose-time and drug considerations in antifungal management. Candida albicans was the predominant species.