Abstract The plasma concentrations of type II phospholipase A 2 (type II PLA 2) and eicosanoids, such as leukotriene B 4 (LTB 4), 6-keto-prostaglandin F 1α (6-keto-PGF 1α), and thromboxane B 2 (TXB 2), were determined by radioimmunoassay in 23 patients with burns covering at least 20 per cent of their body surface. Cytokines such as tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin 6 (IL-6) and interleukin 8 (IL-8) were determined by enzyme-immunosorbent assay. There was no increase in type II PLA 2 concentration in the early stage of burns, but an increase in type II PLA 2 concentration was triggered by infection ( P < 0.0001). The level of type II PLA 2 was significantly higher in the non-surviving group than in the surviving group ( P = 0.0006), suggesting that it reflects the severity of the disease. There was a significant correlation between the maximum level of type II PLA 2 and TNF-α ( r = 0.6346, P = 0.0011). There was a significant correlation between the maximum level of type II PLA 2 and the accompanying plasma concentrations of LTB 4, 6-keto-PGF 1α, and TXB 2 throughout the observation period ( r = 0.4814, P = 0.0200; r = 0.5943, P = 0.0028; r = 0.4368, P = 0.0372 respectively). Plasma levels of LTB 4, and TXB 2 were significantly higher in the burn patients who died than in those who survived ( P = 0.0493; P = 0.0493 respectively).