Because infants hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection frequently receive antibiotics, our study was undertaken to determine what the actual risk of secondary bacterial infections in patients with RSV infection is and what effect antibiotic treatment might have on the course of illness. In a 9-year prospective study of 1706 children hospitalized with acute respiratory illnesses, 565 children had documented RSV infections. A subsequent bacterial infection rarely developed in those with RSV lower respiratory tract disease. The rate of subsequent bacterial infection was 1.2% in the total group of children infected with RSV, and 0.6% in the 352 children who received no antibiotics. A significantly greater proportion (4.5%) of subsequent bacterial infections occurred in infants who received parenteral antibiotics (p = 0.01), and especially in a subgroup who received parenteral antibiotics for 5 or more days (11%, p less than 0.001). We conclude that the risk of secondary bacterial infection appears to be low for most infants with RSV infection. In a few infants given parenteral broad-spectrum antibiotics the risk may be greater, but whether this is related to the antibiotic therapy or to other risk factors is not clear.