We report an outbreak of human bartonellosis in Zamora Chinchipe Province in Ecuador, which occurred in 1995-1996. Nineteen cases were seen, of which 18 presented with classical oroya fever (fever and profound anaemia) and one with verruga peruana; 11 of the cases (58%) had positive blood films containing Bartonella bacilliformis. The houses of cases and neighbouring controls were visited; blood samples for thin films and cultures were collected from members of each house and a questionnaire was administered to investigate possible risk factors for disease transmission. In none of those sampled was B. bacilliformis bacteriologically demonstrable. All case houses were located in isolated areas at the margin of forest and the presence of dead rodents was reported only in case houses (P < 0.05). We suggest that human bartonellosis is a zoonosis with a natural rodent reservoir and that migrant humans infected in this way may become a temporary reservoir host in populated areas.