We studied 84 consecutive patients presenting with acute diarrhoea (less than 1 week in duration) at an outpatient tropical medicine clinic in Cairo, Egypt. The diagnosis of amoebic colitis was established by the presence of Entamoeba histolytica galactose-inhibitable lectin antigen and the presence of occult blood in stool. Controls were 182 healthy regional people and 64 patients complaining of prolonged diarrhoea lasting more than 1 week. Entamoeba histolytica infection was found more frequently in patients with acute diarrhoea (57.1%) than in healthy controls (21.4%) or patients with prolonged diarrhoea (25%) (P < 0.001). There was a higher prevalence of Entamoeba dispar infection in the two control groups (24.2 and 20.3%, respectively, P=0.004 and 0.061) compared with those with acute diarrhoea (8.3%). Of the 84 patients with acute diarrhoea 32 had amoebic colitis (38%), and of these, 31 (97%) had at least one positive assay for serum amoebic antibodies (P < 0.001 compared with control groups). In summary, as determined by antigen-detection enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, there is an unexpectedly high prevalence of amoebic colitis among patients presenting with acute diarrhoea to a tropical disease clinic in Cairo, Egypt.