The role of ribavirin in the treatment of acute bronchiolitis is controversial. It has been suggested that the use of ribavirin may be of benefit during the acute illness and may reduce subsequent recurrent respiratory morbidity. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was designed to determine whether ribavirin administered during the acute illness would have an influence on respiratory morbidity during both the acute illness and during the following year. Bronchial reactivity 6 months after the acute illness was also assessed. Forty previously well infants with moderately severe acute bronchiolitis were recruited during three winter epidemics. Subjects received study medication for 18 h a day. Management was otherwise unaltered. Subjects were evaluated daily by the investigator and subsequently assessed at 6 weeks, 6 months and 1 year following the acute illness. Assessment of bronchial hyper-responsiveness was assessed at 6 months of age using total body plethysmography and an established ultra-sonically nebulized distilled water challenge. A total of 40 patients (21 ribavirin, 19 placebo) were entered into the study. The two groups did not differ with respect to age, gender or clinical severity on entry to the trial. No significant differences were identified in the rate of clinical improvement over the first 24 h, the time to discharge, bronchial responsiveness at 6 months of age, frequency of significant respiratory symptoms over the first year of life and the frequency of prescribed bronchodilators and inhaled steroids during the year of follow-up. This study was unable to demonstrate any clinical benefit from the use of ribavirin in the acute illness or during subsequent follow-up for 1 year.