A study was undertaken to determine the resources available in Italian hospitals for the control of nosocomial infections and the factors favouring a successful approach. During January-May 2000 a questionnaire about infection control was sent to the hospital health director of all Italian National Health System hospitals treating acute patients and with more than 3500 admissions in 1999. An active programme was defined as a hospital infection control committee (HICC) meeting at least four times in 1999, the presence of a doctor with infection control responsibilities, a nurse employed in infection control and at least one surveillance activity and one infection control guideline issued or updated in the past two years. There was a response rate of 87.5% (463/529). Almost fifteen percent (69/463) of hospitals had an active programme for Infection Control and 76.2% (353/463) had a HICC. Seventy-one percent (330/463) of the hospitals had a hospital infection control physician and 53% (250/463) had infection control nurses. Fifty-two percent (242/463) reported at least one surveillance activity and 70.8% (328/463) had issued or updated at least one guidance document in the last two years. The presence of regional policies [odds ratio (OR) 8.7], operative groups (OR 4.2), at least one full-time nurse (OR 4.6) and a hospital annual plan which specified infection control (OR 2.1) were statistically associated with an active programme in the multivariate analysis.