Genus- and species-specific sequences are present within the small subunit ribosomal RNA genes of the four human malaria parasites. Oligonucleotide primer pairs specific to each species were designed for specific amplification by the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), to detect each malaria species. DNA equivalent to 5 microliters of blood was sufficient for the detection of each of the species. Blood samples obtained from 196 patients attending a malaria clinic in Trad province (Thailand) were analyzed. Detection and identification of the parasites, solely by electrophoretic analysis of the PCR products, has proven to be more sensitive and accurate than by routine diagnostic microscopy. A high proportion of mixed species infections were brought to light by the PCR assay. Implications for medical treatment and epidemiological studies are discussed.