A modified rapid urease test (MRU test) for the detection of Helicobacter pylori was evaluated under field conditions during an endoscopic survey in rural India and compared with a commercially available urease test (CLO test) and with histology. Of 195 consecutive subjects who underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, 153 (78.5%) were positive for Helicobacter pylori when tested by the CLO test and/or histology. The sensitivity and specificity of the MRU test relative to this was 97.4 and 95.2%, respectively when the test was read over a 3 h period. The MRU test was positive in 77.4, 89.0, 93.8 and 96.6% of cases at 1, 5, 20 and 60 min, respectively, compared with 2.7, 14.4, 48.6 and 71.2% of cases for the CLO test at the same time. The accuracy of the MRU test was thus similar to that of other methods for the detection of Helicobacter pylori. Furthermore, it gave a positive diagnosis more rapidly than other tests, in most cases before the subject had left the endoscopy suite. The MRU test is extremely simple to prepare and read and costs less than 0.05 pounds per test compared with 2.26 pounds for a CLO test. It is suitable for use in clinical or epidemiological work and especially where cost factors are critical.