The detection of virus is used to diagnose human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection in infants due to the persistence of maternal antibodies for a year or more. An HIV-1 DNA PCR assay with simple specimen collection and processing was developed and evaluated. Whole blood was collected on filter paper that lysed cells and bound the DNA, eliminating specimen centrifugation and extraction procedures. The DNA remained bound to the filter paper during PCR amplification. Assays of copy number standards showed reproducible detection of 5 to 10 copies of HIV-1 in 5 microl of whole blood. The sensitivity of the assay did not decrease after storage of the standards on filter paper for 3 months at room temperature or after incubation at 37 or 45 degrees C for 20 h. The primers used for nested PCR of the HIV-1 pol gene amplified templates from a reference panel of multiple HIV-1 subtypes but did not amplify a subtype A or a subtype C virus from children living in Seattle. The assay had a sensitivity of 98.4% and a specificity of 98.3% for testing of 122 specimens from 35 HIV-1-infected and 16 uninfected children and 43 seronegative adults living in Washington. The assay had a sensitivity of 99% and a specificity of 100% for testing of 102 HIV-1-positive (as determined by enzyme immunoassay) Peruvian women and 6 seropositive and 34 seronegative infants. This assay, with adsorption of whole blood to filter paper and no specimen processing, provides a practical, economical, sensitive, and specific method for the diagnosis of HIV-1 subtype B infection in infants.