A 6 M guanidine-HCl/0.2 M EDTA solution was used to lyse and store whole blood specimens. DNA stored in guanidine-EDTA-blood (GEB) lysate was found to be undegraded after incubation at 37 degrees C for 1 month, suggesting that this represents an appropriate reagent for transport of blood samples from the field to a laboratory for analysis. Trypanosoma cruzi kinetoplast DNA in GEB lysate can be cleaved using the chemical nuclease, 1,10-phenanthroline-copper ion (OP-Cu2+). This procedure liberates linearized minicircle molecules from network catenation, distributing them throughout the lysate, and allowing a small aliquot of the original lysate to be analyzed by PCR amplification. This increases the sensitivity of the method dramatically for the detection of small numbers of trypanosomes in a large volume of blood. DNAs isolated from aliquots of T. cruzi-positive GEB lysates were polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-amplified with 3 sets of T. cruzi-specific kDNA minicircle primers, yielding the 83-bp and 122-bp conserved region fragments and the 330-bp variable region fragments. The PCR products were analyzed by gel electrophoresis and/or hybridization. Results indicate that a single T. cruzi cell in 20 ml of blood can be detected by this method. Blood samples from several chronic chagasic patients were tested. Amplification of T. cruzi kDNA minicircle sequences was obtained in al cases, even when xenodiagnosis was negative. This PCR-based test should prove useful as a replacement or complement for xenodiagnosis or serology in clinical and epidemiological studies of chronic Chagas' disease.