Rapid diagnosis of herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) can only be achieved by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In order to carry out PCR under routine conditions, it is of great importance to establish an easy DNA extraction protocol and especially a rapid and sensitive DNA detection method. In the present study, two different solid phase hybridization assays (Gen-Eti-K-DNA Enzyme Immunoassay (DEIA), Sorin Biomedica, Italy and Enzymun-Test DNA detection, Boehringer Mannheim, Germany) were compared for detection of PCR amplified HSV DNA polymerase genome region, using standard primers, from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples. 122 CSF samples obtained from patients suffering from encephalitis and hospitalized at the University Clinics of Frankfurt and Graz during the period January 1992 to July 1993 were tested. To ascertain the sensitivity of the hybridization assays, dilution series of a plasmid, encoding the amplified region of the polymerase gene, were investigated. The detection limit of the DEIA assay was one copy of the plasmid/microliter, and the lowest amount of DNA which could be detected by the Enzymun assay as well as Southern blot was 10 copies/microliter. 15 CSF samples obtained from patients with HSE were found positive by the three assays. Concordant results were also obtained with CSF samples from non-HSE patients. The results of this study show that new hybridization systems guarantee a fast and high-sensitive detection of amplified HSV DNA. HSV PCR in CSF can be carried out routinely by the combined use of rapid hybridization and a simple extraction procedure.