Many current health status instruments either are too long to use in many acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) clinical trials or omit important concepts. In this study, human immunodeficiency virus (HlV)-relevant items developed for the Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) from subscales for cognitive function, energy/fatigue, health distress, and a single quality of life item were added to a portion of the MOS Short-form General Health Survey. The resulting 30-item questionnaire reliably and distinctly measured ten aspects of health and took less than 5 minutes to complete. To test its validity, this modified measure was used to compare the health of 73 subjects with asymptomatic HIV infection and 44 with early AIDS-related complex (ARC). Compared with ARC subjects, asymptomatic individuals reported superior overall health, less pain, and better physical function, role function, cognitive function, and quality of life (rank-sum, P < 0.02). Asymptomatic subjects' scores were higher on most subscales than the age-adjusted scores of MOS outpatients with hypertension, diabetes, recent myocardial infarction, or depression; ARC patients scored closest to hypertensive patients. This instrument, containing a subset of the MOS measures of health-related quality of life, may be a useful outcome measure for AIDS clinical trials.