The in vitro activity of cefpirome, a new parenteral fourth-generation cephalosporin, was investigated in the 5 university hospitals of Switzerland, and compared to 9 other antibiotics mainly used in hospitals, such as ceftazidime, ceftriaxone, cefotaxime, piperacillin, imipenem, gentamicin, vancomycin, ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin. A total number of 992 strains collected only from intensive care units and haematology-oncology units were tested by microdilution according to NCCLS. Cefpirome showed an excellent activity against all Enterobacteriaceae (MIC90 = 4 mg/l), methicillin-susceptible staphylococci (MIC90 = 1 mg/l), Streptococcus pneumoniae (MIC90 = 0.25 mg/l) and Haemophilus influenzae (MIC90 = 0.12 mg/l) isolates. Its activity was superior to that of third-generation cephalosporins against cephalosporinase-depressed mutants of Enterobacter cloacae and Citrobacter freundii isolates (MIC90 > 32 mg/l for third-generation cephalosporins vs 4 mg/l for cefpirome). The MICs of cefpirome of 3 strains of Klebsiella spp. with an extended-spectrum-beta-lactamase were lower (MIC90 = 2 mg/l) than those of third-generation cephalosporins (MICs90 > 32 mg/l). Against Pseudomonas aeruginosa cefpirome was as active as ceftazidime. The activity of cefpirome was poor against methicillin-resistant staphylococci, enterococci and nosocomial Gram-negative bacteria such as Stenotrophomonas maltophilia.