Ribavirin for Treatment of Subjects with Respiratory Syncytial Virus-Related Infection: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Adv Ther. 2022 Sep;39(9):4037-4051. doi: 10.1007/s12325-022-02256-5. Epub 2022 Jul 25.


Introduction: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-associated diseases have caused an estimated 1.8 million hospital admissions and 40,000 deaths among children. RSV can cause lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) in all age groups, adults with comorbidities, and immunocompromised patients. The aim was to summarize the evidence concerning efficacy and safety of ribavirin in subjects diagnosed with RSV associated with LRTI.

Methods: A systematic review and meta-analysis were performed. Eligible studies were observational (> 10 subjects) and randomized-controlled trials of subjects with aerosol/oral ribavirin for RSV-LRTI. Comparator was supportive care or placebo. Systematic search on PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Web of Science databases was conducted between January 2001 and January 2022. PROSPERO register number: CRD42022308147.

Results: After retrieving 907 studies, 10 observational studies and 1 randomized controlled trial were included (4/11 high quality of evidence). Seven studies included subjects with haematological malignancy/stem cell transplant, two lung transplants, and two healthy individuals. A total of 788 subjects diagnosed with RSV infection were included; 14.3% of them presented with only LRTI. Among 445 subjects treated with ribavirin, 195 (43.8%) received an aerosolized formulation. Pooled meta-analysis showed no differences in mortality [risk ratio (RR): 0.63; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.28-1.42] in all subjects treated with aerosol/oral ribavirin compared to supportive care. In subgroup analysis, mortality was significantly lower in haematological subjects (RR: 0.32; 95% CI: 0.14-0.71), but did not differ significantly in lung transplant recipients (RR: 0.89; 95% CI 0.31-2.56). Oral ribavirin (vs. supportive care) was associated with increased viral clearance (RR: 2.60; 95% CI: 1.35-4.99). Seventeen adverse events were reported among 119 subjects, but none were severe.

Conclusion: Ribavirin should be considered for treatment of RSV-LRTI in haematological subjects. There is a lack of evidence to support its use in lung transplant recipients. Oral formulation appears to be an easier, safe, and cost-effective alternative to aerosolized ribavirin. Further advances needs to focus on newer antivirals.

Keywords: Bronchiolitis; Paramyxovirus; Pneumonia; Respiratory syncytial virus; Ribavirin.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antiviral Agents / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Aerosols and Droplets
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections* / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Syncytial Viruses
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / drug therapy
  • Ribavirin / therapeutic use


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Ribavirin