A nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for the diagnosis of human visceral leishmaniasis (VL) due to Leishmania infantum infection was developed using primers selected from the parasite's genomic deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The assay, which is based on the use of leucocytes separated from blood samples by Ficoll-Paque centrifugation, was compared with culture in vitro. Blood samples were collected from 17 patients in Spain with a history of clinical VL, 15 of whom were also infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (13 samples during the VL episode and 31 samples during post-treatment monitoring) and one sample was collected from each of 28 patients with HIV infection and fever but no history of VL. The nested PCR using blood detected all the cases of parasitologically confirmed, clinically active VL, while culture detected 92%. The nested PCR detected Leishmania DNA in 18% of the HIV-infected patients with fever and no history of VL, none of whom gave a positive culture. Follow-up examination of the VL patients by nested PCR and culture demonstrated the persistence of L. infantum in blood for a long time after treatment.