A commercial DNA probe kit (Gen-probe) for the detection of rRNA from legionellae was evaluated for its accuracy in diagnosing Legionnaires' disease in 167 patients with pneumonia. The test was performed on freshly obtained clinical respiratory tract samples. Cultures and direct immunofluorescence antibody (DFA) staining of the samples and serological tests were performed simultaneously for all patients. The probe assay result was positive in six patients; five of them had other laboratory evidence of disease (positive cultures or positive serological results or both). Depending on the diagnostic criteria, the probe test had a sensitivity of 31-67%, a specificity of 99% and positive predictive values of 67-83%. The diagnostic performance of the DNA probe assay in this study was superior to that of the DFA test. The results indicate that the examination of respiratory tract secretions by the Gen-probe kit is a suitable screening test for the diagnosis of Legionnaires' disease.