Our study describes the comparison of a rapid nested PCR assay to standard serology techniques for the detection of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in serum. The sera of 81 patients with suspected EBV infection were analyzed; 54 were positive for one or more of the standard serology markers, i.e., IgM viral capsid antigen (VCA), IgG-VCA, Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen 1 (EBNA-1), and early antigen (EA), and 27 were negative for all serology markers. The sera from 15 normal healthy blood donors were also included. No EBV DNA was detected in any of the 15 blood donor samples or in any of the 27 samples with negative serology results. Eleven samples (20%) of the 54 with positive EBV serology results were positive for EBV DNA. Of these samples, 9 were EBV IgM-VCA positive and anti-EBNA negative, suggesting acute infection. One of the 11 samples had high titers of IgM-VCA, IgG-VCA, anti-EBNA, and anti-EA. The last of the 11 samples was from a patient with acute infectious mononucleosis without sufficient sample volume for EBV serology testing. Seventeen of the total 96 samples from the study were IgM-VCA positive and anti-EBNA negative and 9 of these 17 samples (53%) tested positive for EBV DNA. These data suggest that the detection of EBV DNA by PCR in serum may be a useful indicator of active infection rather than latent virus.