In this review, we describe the history, epidemiology and clinical manifestations of infections attributed to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children. At present, no cure exists for RSV infection but commonly employed palliative treatments include oxygen and inhaled beta(2)-adrenoceptor agonists, such as salbutamol, to relieve the wheezing and increased bronchiolar smooth muscle constriction. Adrenaline (epinephrine) has been found to be superior to the selective beta(2)-adrenoceptor agonists. Oral or inhaled corticosteroids should counteract the inflammatory response to RSV infection but their effectiveness is controversial. Inhaled ribavirin is the only licensed antiviral product approved for the treatment of RSV lower respiratory-tract infection in hospitalized children, although its use is now restricted to high-risk infants. Other treatments considered are nasopharyngeal suctioning, surfactant therapy, recombinant human deoxyribonuclease I, heliox (helium:oxygen) and inhaled nitric oxide. Prevention of infection by RSV antibodies is another strategy and, currently, palivizumab is the only safe, effective and convenient preventative treatment for RSV disease in high-risk populations of infants and young children. Its cost-effectiveness, however, has been questioned. Both live attenuated and subunit vaccines against RSV infection have been developed but so far there is no safe and effective vaccine available. Finding effective treatments and prophylactic measures remains a major challenge for the future.