A seminested RT-PCR (nRT-PCR) was used to detect picornavirus (PV) RNA in cell cultures inoculated with rhinoviruses (HRVs) and enteroviruses (EVs). PCR tests in which a primary "touchdown" PCR was followed by secondary reactions using PV or HRV specific primers were able to differentiate HRVs of 48 serotypes from EVs. PVnRT-PCR and HRVnRT-PCR were then used to test nasal and throat swabs from adult subjects with naturally acquired respiratory virus infections. The swabs were also analysed for respiratory viruses by cell culture techniques and the rates of PV identification by the two methods were compared. PVnRT-PCR was found to be at least five times more sensitive than cell culture for the detection of PVs in these clinical specimens. Paired acute and convalescent serum samples were tested for complement fixing antibodies to adenovirus, influenza A and B, respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza viruses 1, 2, and 3, Myco plasma pneumoniae, and Chlamydia psittaci. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was used to detect rises in antibody level to coronavirus types 229E and OC43. The overall rate of pathogen identification in 159 swabs from adult asthmatics increased from 28% when only cell culture and serology were used to 57% when these methods were supplemented by PVnRT-PCR.