To assess the clinical relevance of a semi-quantitative measurement of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) DNA in renal transplant recipients within the typical clinical context of a developing country where virtually 100% of both receptors and donors are seropositive for this virus, we have undertaken HCMV DNA quantification using a simple, semi-quantitative, limiting dilution polymerase chain reaction (PCR). We evaluated this assay prospectively in 52 renal transplant patients from whom a total of 495 serial blood samples were collected. The samples scored HCMV positive by qualitative PCR had the levels of HCMV DNA determined by end-point dilution-PCR. All patients were HCMV DNA positive during the monitoring period and a diagnosis of symptomatic infection was made for 4 of 52 patients. In symptomatic patients the geometric mean of the highest level of HCMV DNAemia was 152,000 copies per 106 leukocytes, while for the asymptomatic group this value was 12,050. Symptomatic patients showed high, protracted HCMV DNA levels, whereas asymptomatic patients demonstrated intermittent low or moderate levels. Using a cut-off value of 100,000 copies per 106 leukocytes, the limiting dilution assay had sensitivity of 100%, specificity of 92%, a positive predictive value of 43% and a negative predictive value of 100% for HCMV disease. In this patient group, there was universal HCMV infection but relatively infrequent symptomatic HCMV disease. The two patient groups were readily distinguished by monitoring with the limiting dilution assay, an extremely simple technology immediately applicable in any clinical laboratory with PCR capability.