Ribavirin is an antiviral drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1986 for aerosol treatment of serious respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in hospitalized children. Ribavirin has a broad spectrum of antiviral activity in vitro, where it inhibits replication of RSV, influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus, measles, Lassa fever, and Hantaan viruses. Proof of efficacy for human infection has been obtained in double-blind placebo-controlled studies of RSV,1,2 Lassa fever, and Korean hemorrhagic fever. Presently, only anecdotal reports support the efficacy of this drug for treatment of measles or parainfluenza. Ribavirin treatment for RSV infections has been controversial because of the aerosol route of administration, concern for potential toxicity for exposed persons, cost, and the unpredictable and highly variable course of illness in the absence of specific therapy. These issues necessitate ongoing review of ribavirin therapy and the following updated recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Respiratory syncytial virus is the most important cause of lower respiratory tract disease in infants and young children. Disease usually appears in yearly outbreaks in the winter or spring, and essentially all children become infected during their first 3 years of life. The number of infected infants who require hospitalization has been estimated to range from 1 to 50 per 1000 in different locations. Currently, the mortality rate in hospitalized infants who previously were healthy is low (less than 1%). In infants with underlying diseases, however, the mortality can be much higher. Conditions that increase the risk of severe or fatal RSV infection are cyanotic or complicated congenital heart disease (including pulmonary hypertension); underlying pulmonary disease, especially bronchopulmonary dysplasia; prematurity; and immunodeficiency disease or therapy causing immunosuppression at any age.
- Received May 11, 1993.
- Accepted May 11, 1993.
- Copyright © 1993 by the American Academy of Pediatrics