To assess the effects of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for the work of community nursing staff, and to find out how community staff regard their contribution to the prevention of HIV infection, the care of people with AIDS and their preparation for this role was ascertained in a postal survey of one in five field staff carried out in Scotland. The 1,205 respondents represent an 85% response rate. While only 3% of respondents had experience of patients with AIDS, 11% had been involved with known asymptomatic HIV infection and 30% had encountered those they considered to be at high risk of infection. While the workload generated by HIV-infected patients for individual nurses at this time was small, there were variations in the proportions of staff involved according to type of staff and employing health board. Only one-fifth of those who had encountered HIV-positive patients had offered them health education, and fewer had referred patients to their general practitioners or offered counselling. However, community nursing staff do consider that they have a role to play in health education, counselling and terminal care, but feel ill equipped to carry out this role. There is an urgent need for policies which clearly specify the roles that community nursing staff should be playing and for in-service education programmes which assist them to draw on the knowledge and skills that they have to enable them to apply them to help patients with HIV infection.