Most symbiotic stars may be placed in one of two classes according to their infrared colours. In one group the systems contain an M type giant. In the other there is evidence for a star plus infrared emission from dust. JHKL photometry is given for three members of each class. Photometry of the VV Cephei system FR Sct is also given. No evidence for variability was found for systems without dust. The three systems with dust (RX Pup, RR Tel and PK 280-2/sup 0/.1) each show large variations of the stellar component (..delta..J, 1sup(m).6 to 2sup(m).7). It is concluded that these dusty systems contain Mira variables. For the systems without dust the mass transfer in the system is presumably through the inner Lagrangian point. For systems containing Miras it is possible that the companion accretes matter from a general stellar wind. Symbiotic systems containing Mira variables have more dust than average Mira variables. Either an unusually dense stellar wind is needed to produce a symbiotic system or such a system produces dust, perhaps in a high-density region resulting from the interaction of the stellar wind with the companion.