A 1985 estimate that 4500 respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-associated deaths occur annually among US children has not been updated using nationally representative data. Thus, 1979-1997 multiple cause-of-death records for children <5 years old listing bronchiolitis, pneumonia, or any respiratory tract disease were examined. Deaths among children associated with any respiratory disease declined from 4631 in 1979 to 2502 in 1997. During the 19-year study period, 1806 bronchiolitis-associated deaths occurred (annual mean, 95 deaths; range, 66-127 deaths). Of these deaths, 1435 (79%) occurred among infants <1 year old. Congenital heart disease, lung disease, or prematurity was listed in death records of 179 (9.9%), 99 (5.5%), and 76 (4.2%) children dying with bronchiolitis, respectively. By applying published proportions of children hospitalized for bronchiolitis or pneumonia who were RSV-infected to bronchiolitis and pneumonia deaths, it was estimated that < or =510 RSV-associated deaths occurred annually during the study period, fewer than previously estimated.