Enteric viruses that are important causes of human disease must often be detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), a method that commonly yields positive results with samples that contain only inactivated virus. This study was intended to develop a pretreatment for samples, so that inactivated viruses would not be detected by the RT-PCR procedure. Model viruses were human hepatitis A virus, vaccine poliovirus 1 and feline calicivirus as a surrogate for the Norwalk-like viruses. Each virus was inactivated (from an initial titer of approximately 10(3) PFU/ml) by ultraviolet light, hypochlorite or heating at 72 degrees C. Inactivated viruses, that were treated with proteinase K and ribonuclease for 30 min at 37 degrees C before RT-PCR, gave a negative result, which is to say that no amplicon was detected after the reaction was completed. This antecedent to the RT-PCR method may be applicable to other types of viruses, to viruses inactivated in other ways and to other molecular methods of virus detection.