Most patients with herpes simplex virus (HSV) central nervous system (CNS) infection have abnormal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) indices. Therefore, we implemented screening criteria based on CSF values and host immune status to guide testing. All CSF samples submitted for HSV PCR analysis from January 1999 through December 2004 were included in the study. Specimens from patients with human immunodeficiency virus, a history of transplants, an age of <2 years, a CSF white blood cell count of >5 cells/mm(3), or a protein level of >50 mg/dl were tested upon request. All other samples were rejected and frozen. To validate our screening criteria, rejected specimens were pooled and tested retrospectively. Electronic medical records were also reviewed. A total of 1,659 HSV PCR requests from 1,458 patients were screened. Of the 1,296 specimens (78.1%) accepted for testing, 1,213 were negative, 7 were positive for HSV type 1 (HSV-1), 26 were positive for HSV-2, and 50 had unavailable results. Sixteen requests were rejected because an alternative microbiologic diagnosis had been established. Of the 347 samples rejected based on criteria, 222 (64.0%) remained available for pooled testing. No HSV-1-positive samples were identified in the rejected specimens. Two rejected specimens tested positive for HSV-2 DNA, but both met acceptance criteria which had not been communicated to the laboratory. Few patients (7.8%) with rejected specimens were treated with acyclovir, which suggests a low clinical concern for HSV encephalitis. Acceptance criteria based on CSF parameters and host immune status saved time and cost and did not miss patients with HSV CNS infection. Communication between the clinician and the laboratory is imperative for a successful screening program.