An indirect hemagglutination antibody (IHA) test was evaluated for its ability to detect borrelial antibodies in serum samples from patients with Lyme disease. The key test reagent developed for this antibody detection system was tannic acid-treated and glutaraldehyde-fixed sheep red blood cells (SRBC) containing Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb) antigens attached to the outer surface of the SRBC. In order to establish suitable cut-off titers, initial specificity and sensitivity measurements were made using sera from 100 anonymous healthy volunteers and 30 additional pre-determined samples known to be non-reactive or reactive for Lyme disease or syphilis. These results were compared with those obtained using a commercially available ELISA. At titers >/=64, the IHA test had a combined 98% specificity and 100% sensitivity for these 130 serum samples, 30 of which were known positives or negatives, whereas the ELISA was less specific (93%) and much less sensitive (80%). Subsequent testing was performed on sera from 65 patients with the erythema migrans (EM) rash and 20 patients with early disseminated (cardiac/neurologic) symptoms or with Lyme arthritis. At initial presentation, 46-48% of the EM patients had IHA reactivity, with titers >/=128, while 42% were positive in the ELISA. Follow-up testing performed on these EM patients, 8-12 days after receiving antibiotic treatment, revealed that Bb antibodies were detected best by the IHA test (83-86% reactive) relative to the ELISA (81% reactive). Bb antibodies were readily detectable on all of the serum samples from the early disseminated and late stage Lyme disease cases in both assay systems. Based on these results and because of its technical and interpretive simplicity, the IHA test should be considered as a useful and convenient alternative for the serological analysis of Bb infections.