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OBJECTIVE: To describe the pattern of newly diagnosed HIV infection in Australia, between 1984 and 1992. METHODS: State and Territory health authorities reported cases of newly diagnosed HIV infection to the national HIV surveillance centre. Information sought on each case included the State or Territory of diagnosis, the case identifying number, the sex, date of birth and postcode of residence of the person with newly diagnosed HIV infection, the source of exposure to HIV and the date of specimen collection for the diagnosis of infection. RESULTS: By the end of December 1992, a total of 16,765 cases of newly diagnosed HIV infection had been reported in Australia. The annual number of cases declined between 1985 and 1992. Most diagnoses were among males, and exposure to HIV was attributed to male homosexual contact for more than 80% of cases for which information on exposure to HIV was available. Cases of HIV infection attributed to heterosexual contact represented an increasing proportion of the annual number of diagnoses over the period 1985-1992, among both men and women. CONCLUSION: National surveillance for newly diagnosed HIV infection has complemented national surveillance for diagnoses of AIDS as a key mechanism for monitoring the course of the HIV epidemic in Australia. The pattern of newly diagnosed HIV infection was similar to the pattern of AIDS diagnoses, with the overwhelming majority of diagnoses of infection being in adult males whose exposure to HIV was attributed to homosexual contact. Limitations of HIV surveillance include the lack of information on HIV testing patterns, incomplete information on HIV exposure histories and duplication of reported diagnoses.