Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) lower respiratory tract infections are considered to be a serious disease in centres such as the Sophia Children's Hospital (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), but as more benign infections in others such as the Geneva Children's Hospital (Switzerland). To assess the clinical severity of RSV infections at the two sites, 151 infants primarily admitted with a virologically confirmed RSV infection were studied prospectively (1994-5) and retrospectively (1993-4) (55 infants in Geneva and 96 in Rotterdam). Parameters of RSV morbidity which were more severe in Rotterdam during the two winter seasons were apnoea (1.8 v 23.9%), the rate of admission to the intensive care unit (3.6 v 28.1%), mechanical ventilation (0 v 7.3%), and length of stay in hospital (6.8 v 9.1 days). In Geneva higher respiratory rates (59.2 v 51.2), more wheezing (65.5 v 28.8%), and more retractions (81.8 v 63.3%) were recorded. Fewer infants younger than 4 months (54.9 v 68.7%), but more breast fed infants (94.1 v 38.5%), were admitted in Geneva, although the morbidity parameters remained different after correction for these two variables in multivariate analyses. Thus unidentified local factors influence the pattern and severity of RSV infection and may affect the results of multicentre prophylactic and therapeutic studies.