Summary We conducted a sero-epidemiological study of kala-azar in two endemic communities (Kasaini and Gidhaniya) situated in the Terai (plain) of eastern Nepal. Direct agglutination test (DAT) was used as a serological test for screening. Capillary blood samples were collected by filter paper method from 601 (96%) people of a total population of 628 in Kasaini and from 482 (94%) people of 515 in Gidhaniya. Positive DAT titres (1 :2000) were found in 66 (6.09%) of 1083 sera tested. The male–female sero-prevalence ratio was 1.44:1 and the age group of 15 years and above was most affected. Among the bone marrow aspirates collected from 66 DAT seropositive cases, only 19 were positive for Leishmania donovani (LD bodies). Of the 47 DAT seropositive but LD bodies’ negative cases, three were clinically active cases of kala-azar. Another nine developed clinical symptoms of kala-azar during 6 months follow-up and 23 were cases that had received prior treatment for kala-azar (within 1 year). The results of this study show the potential of the DAT on filter paper as a screening test for the surveillance of kala-azar at a community level.