The scientific basis for claims of efficacy of nosocomial infection surveillance and control programs was established by the Study on the Efficacy of Nosocomial Infection Control project. Subsequent analyses have demonstrated nosocomial infection prevention and control programs to be not only clinically effective but also cost-effective. Although governmental and professional organizations have developed a wide variety of useful recommendations and guidelines for infection control, and apart from general guidance provided by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, there are surprisingly few recommendations on infrastructure and essential activities for infection control and epidemiology programs. In April 1996, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America established a consensus panel to develop recommendations for optimal infrastructure and essential activities of infection control and epidemiology programs in hospitals. The following report represents the consensus panel's best assessment of needs for a healthy and effective hospital-based infection control and epidemiology program. The recommendations fall into eight categories: managing critical data and information; setting and recommending policies and procedures; compliance with regulations, guidelines, and accreditation requirements; employee health; direct intervention to prevent transmission of infectious diseases; education and training of healthcare workers; personnel resources; and nonpersonnel resources. The consensus panel used an evidence-based approach and categorized recommendations according to modifications of the scheme developed by the Clinical Affairs Committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Hospital Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee.