Ribavirin for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection

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Ribavirin for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection


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Ribavirin is given in a mist form along with oxygen. The mist can be delivered through a large, clear plastic hood placed over the head. Older children usually receive the medicine through an oxygen tent over the bed or through a face mask. Treatment usually lasts 3 to 5 days.

How It Works

Ribavirin prevents the respiratory syncytial virus from reproducing.

Why It Is Used

Ribavirin is rarely used. But it may be considered as treatment for people at high risk for bronchiolitis or pneumonia, which can develop as complications of RSV.

How Well It Works

In some children, ribavirin may:

  • Shorten an RSV illness.
  • Reduce the severity or decrease the serious problems of lower respiratory infection and difficulty breathing.
  • Prevent complications of RSV infection.

Ribavirin may reduce the spread of RSV infection.

Side Effects

Side effects of this medicine include:

  • Rash.
  • Reddened, swollen, or itchy eyes (conjunctivitis) from contact with the medicine mist.
  • Headache.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Ribavirin may make RSV infection and complications more severe.

It's unknown if this medicine has long-term effects on a person or on the person's subsequent children.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. If your child takes medicine as your doctor suggests, it will improve your child's health and may prevent future problems. If your child doesn't take the medicines properly, his or her health (and perhaps life) may be at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, avoid close contact with a child who is getting ribavirin. If you are planning to get pregnant soon and want to be around your child during this treatment, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy until the treatment is complete. It’s not known if a fetus may develop birth defects if exposed to this medicine.


Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Last Revised September 1, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.