Outbreaks of severe respiratory disease caused by bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) were recorded in dairy herds throughout Sweden in 1988 and subsequently. The virus was demonstrated in nasopharyngeal swab material from animals in the acute stage of the disease by culture, the polymerase chain reaction (PcR) and by immunofluorescence. Serological data from the herds investigated showed that the cows had seroconverted to BRSV rather than to bovine coronavirus, bovine viral diarrhoea virus or parainfluenza-3 virus. It was predominantly dairy herds in isolated areas that contracted a severe primary BRSV infection, often after the purchase of new animals. A nationwide survey for BRSV antibodies in bulk milk samples showed the highest prevalence, of 84 to 89 per cent, in the southernmost regions of Sweden and the lowest prevalence, of 41 to 51 per cent, in the north of the country. The prevalence of BRSV was highest in areas with the highest populations of cattle.