Diagnosis of respiratory syncytial virus by antigen detection is dependent on obtaining adequate respiratory epithelial cells. Two specimen collection methods, nasopharyngeal aspiration (NPA) and nasal brushing (NB), were compared. Thirty-two pediatric patients with presumed viral pneumonia or bronchiolitis (34 episodes) had both NPA and NB performed. Of 34 specimens 15 were culture-positive for respiratory syncytial virus. Of these 12 NPA samples and 10 NB samples had viral inclusions by immunofluorescent antibody staining (IFA). Of culture-negative samples, 1 of 17 NB was positive by IFA. One specimen obtained by NB had too few cells to read by the IFA method. Sensitivity and specificity were 80 and 100% for NPA and 67 and 94% for NB. Total respiratory cells and IFA-positive cells (classified as few, moderate, or many) were greater with NPA; however, NB was also an effective procedure and was better tolerated by children, less expensive and easier to perform.