Since 1977, the diagnostic tools for Legionnaires' disease have been based on culture and serological investigations. Both methods require considerable time to produce results and have ‘low’ to ‘reasonable’ sensitivity. Since the introduction of urinary antigen tests in the mid 1990s, underdiagnosis has diminished and mortality has declined, thanks to early diagnosis. To obtain the most accurate diagnosis, culture, serological investigation, and urinary antigen testing should all be performed. In the last decade, advances in polymerase chain reaction technology allowed the development of assays detecting Legionella nucleic acids in clinical and environmental samples. Thus far, only widely varying results with relatively small series have been reported. Furthermore, these assays which are still labour intensive and complicated are not yet practicable for the average medical and/or environmental microbiological laboratory.