We compared two commercially available tests, a direct immunofluorescence assay and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), to viral isolation in tissue culture for the laboratory diagnosis of untreated and partially treated experimental herpes simplex virus keratitis. New Zealand albino rabbits were inoculated bilaterally with herpes simplex virus-1 McKrae strain after corneal scarification. One eye of each rabbit was treated with a 1% trifluorothymidine solution daily, starting on the third day after inoculation. The direct immunofluorescence assay showed lower sensitivity for herpes simplex virus detection than viral isolation in tissue culture for both untreated and partially treated eyes. The Herpchek ELISA demonstrated similar sensitivity to tissue culture in detecting herpes simplex virus in untreated eyes. In the treated group, however, the Herpchek ELISA showed a higher percentage of eyes positive for herpes simplex virus than did viral isolation in tissue culture. After the initiation of antiviral therapy, eyes that no longer harbor infectious virus that can be isolated in tissue culture may remain herpes simplex virus antigen-positive and thus be more amenable to laboratory diagnosis using the rapid ELISA method.