A postal survey of 5243 community nursing staff throughout England sought information about their experience, education, knowledge, confidence and beliefs in relation to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) A response rate of 74% was obtained While experience of patients positive for HIV antibody or with AIDS was limited, one-third of community nursing staff had encountered patients worried about HIV infection However, most lacked confidence to provide health education, counselling and terminal care A quarter felt that they should have the right to refuse to care for patients with AIDS, while 85% were concerned about their lack of experience In order to play an effective role in the prevention and management of HIV infection, community nursing staff need to be assisted in making links between knowledge they already possess and its application to HIV infection, and in developing and practising skills