We developed a multiplex, quantitative, real-time, polymerase chain reaction assay for cytomegalovirus (CMV) and used it to measure the CMV viral load in weekly blood specimens from 43 lung transplant recipients. The median viral load in blood samples immediately preceding bronchoscopy was 1150 copies/-g human DNA for 12 subjects with pneumonitis compared to 91 copies for 31 subjects without (P=0.02, Mann-Whitney U test). Each log10 increase in CMV viral load resulted in an increase of 1.92 in the odds ratio for CMV pneumonitis (95% confidence interval 1.03-3.56). CMV viral load was elevated (>100 copies/-g human DNA) for a median of 21 days before bronchoscopy in those subjects with pneumonitis versus 0 days in those without (P=0.004). We conclude that the risk of CMV pneumonitis after lung transplantation is related to the level of CMV DNA in blood. Quantitative PCR should be evaluated prospectively for the preemptive management of CMV in lung transplant recipients.