The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has been established as a highly sensitive technique for detection of viral DNA or RNA. However, due to inherent limitations of PCR the amount of amplified product often does not correlate with the initial amount of template DNA. This is particularly true for PCR detection of viral infections that are characterized by low in vivo viral copy numbers in certain stages of the infection, such as human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) and simian T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 (STLV-1). Therefore, we developed a quantitative competitive polymerase chain reaction (qcPCR) for detection of HTLV-1 and STLV-1 proviral DNA. The assay was optimized using an infectious HTLV-1 clone, ACH, HTLV-1 infected cell lines, MT-2.6 and HUT-102 and STLV-1 infected lines Kia and Matsu. Applicability of this system was demonstrated by determining HTLV-1 proviral load in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of human subjects with HTLV-1 associated diseases and an asymptomatic carrier as well as rabbits infected experimentally. This qcPCR method, the first designed specifically for HTLV-1 and STLV-1, will provide an important tool for pathogenesis studies of HTLV-1 and for evaluating the efficacy of antiviral drugs and vaccines against the viral infection using animal models.