- Objective. To study the epidemiology of neonatal sepsis and meningitis in the Negev area of southern Israel. Design. A prospective 8-year study conducted at the neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric wards of the Soroka University Medical Center. Results. Two hundred twenty-nine cases of hospital and community-acquired neonatal sepsis occurred during the study period. Thirty-two patients (14%) were meningitis. During this period 70 709 births (59% Jews and 41% Bedouins) were recorded; thus the rates of neonatal sepsis and meningitis were 3.2 and 0.5/1000 live births, respectively. One hundred seventeen (4/1000 live births) cases were recorded in Bedouins and 112 (2.6/1000 live births) in Jewish neonates (P < 0.001). Twenty-six percent of all sepsis cases occurred within <24 h from birth, 25% from Days 2 to 7 of life and 49% between Days 8 and 28. A total of 251 organisms that were considered true pathogens were isolated. Fifty-seven of all isolates were Gram-negative organisms (mainly Klebsiella pneumoniae (20%) and Escherichia coli (16%)). Gram-positive organisms were isolated in 41% of cases. Although E. coli was the most frequently recovered Gram-negative pathogen in community-acquired late onset sepsis, Klebsiella and Enterobacter spp. represented the most commonly isolated Gram-negative organisms in nosocomial late onset sepsis. All Staphylococcus aureus isolates recovered in late onset sepsis were nosocomial. The incidence of Streptococcus agalactiae was 3 times higher in early onset sepsis than in late onset sepsis. All cases of Streptococcus pneumoniae sepsis occurred in Bedouins. Conclusions. Neonatal sepsis and meningitis rates in southern Israel are similar to those reported in Western Europe and the United States. The incidence of neonatal sepsis is significantly higher for Bedouins than for Jewish neonates. The distribution of the main pathogens is different in southern Israel and although Gram-negative enteric organisms are predominant, S. agalactiae plays a relatively minor role in the etiology of sepsis during the first month of life. In southern Israel the etiology of community-acquired late onset sepsis is different from that of nosocomial late onset sepsis.