Rapid identification and differentiation of orthopoxviruses by PCR were achieved with primers based on genome sequences encoding the hemagglutinin (HA) protein, an infected-cell membrane antigen that distinguishes orthopoxviruses from other poxvirus genera. The initial identification step used a primer pair of consensus sequences for amplifying an HA DNA fragment from the three known North American orthopoxviruses (raccoonpox, skunkpox, and volepox viruses), and a second pair for amplifying virtually the entire HA open reading frame of the Eurasian-African orthopoxviruses (variola, vaccinia, cowpox, monkeypox, camelpox, ectromelia, and gerbilpox viruses). RsaI digest electropherograms of the amplified DNAs of the former subgroup provided species differentiation, and TaqI digests differentiated the Eurasian-African orthopoxviruses, including vaccinia virus from the vaccinia virus subspecies buffalopox virus. Endonuclease HhaI digest patterns distinguished smallpox variola major viruses from alastrim variola minor viruses. For the Eurasian-African orthopoxviruses, a confirmatory step that used a set of higher-sequence-homology primers was developed to provide sensitivity to discern individual virus HA DNAs from cross-contaminated orthopoxvirus DNA samples; TaqI and HhaI digestions of the individual amplified HA DNAs confirmed virus identity. Finally, a set of primers and modified PCR conditions were developed on the basis of base sequence differences within the HA genes of the 10 species, which enabled production of a single DNA fragment of a particular size that indicated the specific species.