Over a 15-year observation period (1981-96), 166 cases of primary immunodeficiency disease (PID) were registered at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. PID was diagnosed according to World Health Organization criteria and only children with well-established deficiencies were included. The following frequencies were noted by PID classification: predominantly humoral defects (60.8%), T cell defects (4.9%), combined immunodeficiency (9.6%), phagocyte disorders (18.7%), and complement deficiencies (6%). The male to female ratio was 1.3 to 1. Immunoglobin A deficiency was the most frequent disorder (60 cases), followed by transient hypogammaglobulinemia (14 cases), chronic granulomatous disease (14 cases), and X-linked agammaglobulinemia (9 cases). Allergic symptoms occurred in 41% of cases. During the observation period, 23 children (13.8%) died, primarily of recurrent infections. Although improved diagnostic facilities have facilitated the recognition of immunodeficient children, the true incidence is likely to be higher than that detected in this study. Increased international collaboration is urged to improve the early detection of PID.