A large field study has been performed in the Cochabamba region of Bolivia with the aim of comparing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with other diagnostic methods for Chagas' disease. The amplification of Trypanosoma cruzi-specific kinetoplast DNA sequences in blood samples was compared with classical serological methods, specific IgM detection and direct parasite visualization for 268 school children in a single village where Chagas' disease transmission is active. Of 113 children positive by classical serology or buff) coat examination, 106 were detected by PCR (sensitivity: 93.8%). We did not observe any significant difference of PCR sensitivity between initial (IgM and/or buffy coat positive) and indeterminate stage (only IgG positive) patients. Among the remaining 155 children unconfirmed as chagasic (who were either only IgM positive, IgG-, IgM-, and buffy coat-negative) only 1 case was PCR positive. This case may be due to DNA contamination, or to a very recent infection not detected otherwise, or to specific immune depression. These results show that PCR is a very sensitive parasitological test for Chagas' disease in active transmission regions. The future follow-up of the possibly infected patients who were only IgM-positive should clarify the interest of PCR and IgM tests in the detection of starting infections.