Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is the leading cause of congenital virus infection in developed countries, affecting an estimated 1% of births. This antenatal infection can cause serious sequelae. Strategies for prevention and treatment must, therefore, be agreed upon, entailing a preliminary performance assessment of antenatal virus diagnosis techniques. Between 1992 and 1999, HCMV serology status was established for 19456 pregnant women in four French hospitals. Seronegative patients (55.4%) were given serology screening, and antenatal diagnosis was given to 152 women who had shown seroconversion during their pregnancies (1.4%). The detection of HCMV transmission from mother to fetus was finally established in 95 cases, using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and viral culture methods for detecting HCMV in the amniotic fluid. These results were compared with viral culture of children's urine after birth, enabling us to distinguish between children really infected in utero (30%) and non-infected children (70%). The results of the virus culture and those of PCR were identical in 94 of the 95 cases, with one discrepancy (culture-/PCR+). The two diagnosis techniques had identical sensitivity (72%), with culture proving slightly more specific than PCR (98.4% as opposed to 96.9%). Positive prediction values for culture and for PCR were, respectively, 95.6 and 91.3%. Antenatal virus diagnosis on amniotic fluid was negative with both techniques in 8 out of 29 cases of children born with HCMV infection (VPN=89%). Over half of these wrongly negative results can be explained by amniocentesis carried out too early in the pregnancy or too early with respect to the mother's primary infection.