Commercial inactivated parenteral influenza vaccines reduced febrile (> or = 38 degrees C) respiratory illness by 53% (95% CL: 41-63%) during a 3 week outbreak in 1998 when A/Sydney/5/97(H3N2)-like influenza viruses were shown to be the predominant etiological agents and an older antigenic variant, A/Nanchang/933/95, served as the vaccine virus. The calculatory efficacy for preventing virologically diagnosed influenza infections was 57% (95% CL: 40-68%). The study population consisted of 1374 young male military conscripts. Vaccination coverage on a voluntary basis was 67%. Vaccination was ineffective in preventing febrile illness during a second epidemic wave lasting 2 weeks when mainly adenoviruses were shown to have been circulating in the garrison. Out of the 36 nasopharyngeal aspirates positive for influenza A by antigen detection, 18 A/Sydney/5/97-like strains (10 from non-vaccinated and eight from vaccinated subjects) and two A/Nanchang/933/95-like strains (both from non-vaccinated subjects) were isolated in MDCK cell cultures. Intraepidemic variation was detected among the A/Sydney/5/97-like field strains in their HA1 sequences and reactivity in HI tests, but no evidence was obtained that this variation would have been of significance to the virus in breaking through the vaccination-induced immunity.