The decline of maternal respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) specific serum antibodies was studied in 45 children during the first 6 months of life, using a virus neutralization assay and competition ELISAs measuring fusion protein and glycoprotein specific antibodies. In all children RSV neutralizing antibodies were demonstrated at birth, with titers ranging from 33 to 1382. The calculated mean half life of these antibodies was 26 days. Furthermore, in a group of 38 children with suspected RSV infection, all younger than 6 months of age on admission, the diagnostic value of serological assays was evaluated. In 32 children RSV infection was confirmed by virus isolation, direct immune fluorescence and RT-PCR. In 7 patients of this group a significant titer rise in virus neutralization assay was demonstrated. Six additional RSV infected children could be identified by showing the presence of RSV-specific IgM or IgA serum antibodies or by showing an increase in fusion protein or glycoprotein specific antibodies. All serological tests together identified 13 (41%) of the 32 RSV infected patients. It is concluded that in children of this age group, which represent the majority of patients hospitalized with RSV infections, serological assays not only have a limited diagnostic value but are of limited value for sero-epidemiological studies.