The presence of human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) and human herpesvirus 7 (HHV-7) was investigated by the polymerase chain reaction in saliva specimens from healthy persons, donors affected by common cold or recurrent aphthous ulceration (RAU), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive patients, and in salivary gland biopsies. The sensitivity of the technique made it possible to detect as few as 5-10 target molecules in 15 microliters of saliva. HHV-6 was present in 63% of salivary gland biopsies and in 3% of salivas from healthy persons. No significant difference in the presence of HHV-6 was detected in specimens from donors with common cold, RAU, or HIV-infected patients. HHV-7 was present in 75% of salivary glands and in 55% of salivas from healthy persons. HHV-7 was detected with similar frequency in salivas from donors with common cold or RAU. Salivas from HIV-infected patients harbored HHV-7 with higher frequency (81%) and increased viral load. These results show that salivary glands are a site of persistent infection for both HHV-6 and HHV-7. However, the two viruses seem to differ in their biological properties: 1) HHV-6 is rarely present in saliva in detectable amounts, while HHV-7 is frequently detected; and 2) immunosuppression by acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) increases the frequency of detection and the viral load of HHV-7, but does not have a significant effect on HHV-6 shedding in saliva.