Both preemptive therapy and universal prophylaxis are used to prevent cytomegalovirus (CMV) disease after transplantation. Randomized trials comparing both strategies are sparse. Renal transplant recipients at risk for CMV (D+/R-, D+/R+, D-/R+) were randomized to 3-month prophylaxis with valacyclovir (2 g q.i.d., n = 34) or preemptive therapy with valganciclovir (900 mg b.i.d. for a minimum of 14 days, n = 36) for significant CMV DNAemia (>/=2000 copies/mL by quantitative PCR in whole blood) assessed weekly for 16 weeks and at 5, 6, 9 and 12 months. The 12-month incidence of CMV DNAemia was higher in the preemptive group (92% vs. 59%, p < 0.001) while the incidence of CMV disease was not different (6% vs. 9%, p = 0.567). The onset of CMV DNAemia was delayed in the valacyclovir group (37 +/- 22 vs. 187 +/- 110 days, p < 0.001). Significantly higher rate of biopsy-proven acute rejection during 12 months was observed in the preemptive group (36% vs. 15%, p = 0.034). The average CMV-associated costs per patient were $5525 and $2629 in preemptive therapy and valacyclovir, respectively (p < 0.001). However, assuming the cost of $60 per PCR test, there was no difference in overall costs. In conclusion, preemptive valganciclovir therapy and valacyclovir prophylaxis are equally effective in the prevention of CMV disease after renal transplantation.