A controlled trial of aerosolized ribavirin in infants receiving mechanical ventilation for severe respiratory syncytial virus infection

N Engl J Med. 1991 Jul 4;325(1):24-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199107043250105.


Background: Although the antiviral agent ribavirin improves the course of lower respiratory tract disease in spontaneously breathing infants with respiratory syncytial virus infection, it is not known whether ribavirin can benefit infants with severe respiratory syncytial virus disease who require mechanical ventilation.

Methods: We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of ribavirin (20 mg per milliliter) administered continuously in aerosolized form to infants receiving mechanical ventilation for respiratory failure that was caused by documented respiratory syncytial virus infection.

Results: Of the 28 infants (mean [+/- SD] age, 1.4 +/- 1.7 months) enrolled, 7 had underlying diseases predisposing them to severe infection (mean age, 3.0 +/- 2.6 months), and 21 were previously normal (mean age, 0.8 +/- 0.9 month). Among the 14 infants who received ribavirin, the mean duration of mechanical ventilation was 4.9 days (as compared with 9.9 days among the 14 who received placebo; P = 0.01), and the mean length of supplemental oxygen use was 8.7 days (as compared with 13.5 days; P = 0.01). The mean length of the hospital stay was 13.3 days after treatment with ribavirin and 15.0 with placebo (P = 0.04). When only the 21 previously normal infants were considered, the mean length of the hospital stay was 9.0 days for the ribavirin recipients and 15.3 days for those who received placebo (P = 0.005).

Conclusions: In infants who require mechanical ventilation because of severe respiratory syncytial virus infection, treatment with aerosolized ribavirin decreases the duration of mechanical ventilation, oxygen treatment, and the hospital stay.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / economics
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Partial Pressure
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Viruses*
  • Respirovirus Infections / drug therapy
  • Respirovirus Infections / therapy*
  • Ribavirin / administration & dosage*
  • Ribavirin / therapeutic use
  • Ventilators, Mechanical


  • Aerosols
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Ribavirin
  • Oxygen