Background. Treatment with prophylactic oral acyclovir, intravenous ganciclovir, or immunoglobulins to prevent cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and disease in renal transplantation is associated with variable efficacy and significant expense. We studied control of CMV in renal transplant recipients using either prophylactic oral ganciclovir or deferred therapy with intensive monitoring with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis. Methods. Forty-two recipients were followed for 6 months after transplantation. Ganciclovir (1000 mg p.o. t.i.d.; n=19) or acyclovir (200 mg p.o. b.i.d.; n=23) was begun at transplantation and continued for 12 weeks. PCR for CMV was performed on buffy-coat specimens every week for 15 weeks and at months 5 and 6. Results. No patients in the ganciclovir group, compared with 14 of 23 patients (61%) in the deferred-therapy group (P<0.0001). developed CMV disease during the first 12 weeks. In the ganciclovir group, 4 of 19 patients (21%) subsequently experienced 5 episodes, whereas 14 patients in the deferred-therapy group experienced 18 episodes (P=0.013 for subjects and P=0.026 for episodes). The time to disease was also delayed in the ganciclovir group compared with the deferred-therapy group (133±17 days vs. 51±7 days; P<0.0001). Oral ganciclovir also prevented CMV viremia during prophylaxis (2/19 patients [11%] vs. 23/23 patients [100%]). Time to CMV viremia was delayed in the ganciclovir group; however, 13/19 patients (68%) ultimately showed PCR evidence for CMV viremia (P=0.005). Conclusions. An initial 12-week course of oral ganciclovir prevents CMV disease and infection in renal transplant recipients during prophylaxis, and the benefits persist after discontinuation.