BACKGROUND—The respiratory tract in patients with cystic fibrosis is frequently colonised with Staphylococcus aureus. There is great diversity of clinical practice in this area of cystic fibrosis. A systematic review was conducted to study the evidence relating antistaphylococcal therapy to clinical outcome in patients with cystic fibrosis. METHODS—A search strategy already evaluated for the study of the epidemiology of cystic fibrosis clinical trials was used. This yielded 3188 references from which 13 clinical trials of antistaphylococcal therapy were identified. RESULTS—Substantial heterogeneity was observed between trials. In the 13 clinical trials a total of 19 antibiotics were used to assess a wide variety of outcome measures (11 clinical, six laboratory). Both intermittent and continuous treatment strategies were used. Sputum clearance of S aureus was more frequently achieved than any other beneficial outcome. A beneficial effect on pulmonary function was rarely measured or observed. Although five randomised clinical trials were identified, the extent of heterogeneity precluded the use of meta-analysis for further synthesis of information. CONCLUSIONS—Antistaphylococcal treatment achieves sputum clearance of S aureus in patients with cystic fibrosis. Prophylactic antistaphylococcal treatment in young children with cystic fibrosis is likely to be of clinical benefit. It remains to be determined whether the use of "prophylactic" versus "intermittent" antistaphylococcal therapy in cystic fibrosis is associated with improved lung function and/or chest radiographic scores, an increase in bacterial resistance, or earlier acquisition of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. A large randomised clinical trial lasting approximately two years is urgently required to address this problem.