Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is increasingly reported as a hospital-acquired pathogen in intensive care units (ICUs). The inconsistent application of hygiene measures by healthcare workers accounts largely for the epidemic dissemination of such resistant strains. The efficacy of a control programme to prevent spread of MRSA was assessed in our paediatric ICU (PICU) from April 1992 to December 1995. Patients initially had weekly MRSA cultures taken from samples of anterior nares and perineum, but from January 1994, cultures were also obtained upon admission. Immediately after notification, all MRSA carriers were isolated. Education of hospital staff was an essential component of our programme. Nosocomial infection rates were recorded retrospectively in 1992 and 1993, and prospectively in 1994 and 1995. Incidence rates between 'pre-programme' and 'programme' periods were compared. The rate of MRSA infection decreased from 5.9-0.8/1000 Patient-Days (PD), (P < 10(-7). MRSA carriage also decreased from 34-2% (P < 10(-9) and the ratio of MRSA to all S. aureus fell from 71-11% (P < 10(-4). The decrease in the global incidence of infection from 20.1-13.9/1000 PD (P = 0.002) was due only to the decrease in MRSA infection. However, between 1994 and 1995, there was a significant increase in the number of transplant patients despite a constant patient/nurse ratio. The nosocomial infection rates caused by other micro-organisms decreased among the transplant patients from 64.8-33.2/1000 transplanted PD (P = 0.009) between 1994 and 1995. At the same time, we observed a slight increase of infections in non-transplanted patients, which may have been due to the effect of increased overall workload on those patients who were supposed to have fewer nosocomial risk factors. We conclude that implementation of infection control measures directed towards limiting person-to-person spread was effective in controlling high MRSA infection rates in a PICU, but it is important to allow enough time for staff to carry out hygiene practices thoroughly.