Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of lower respiratory infection of children. Understanding RSV pathogenesis and evaluating interventions requires quantitative RSV testing. Previous studies have used the plaque assay technique. Real-time reverse transcriptase PCR (RTrtPCR) offers possible greater sensitivity, stability after freeze/thaw, and lower cost, thus facilitating multicenter studies. We developed RTrtPCR assays based upon the RSV N and F genes. The N-gene assay detected greater RSV quantity and was further evaluated. Standard curves utilized both extractions from RSV culture supernatants of known quantity and cloned purified copies of the target DNA. In vitro, the ratio of RSV subgroup A (RSV-A) genome copies to PFU was 153:1. A total of 462 samples collected quantitatively from 259 children were analyzed in duplicate by RTrtPCR. Results were compared with those of RSV plaque assays performed on fresh aliquots from the same children. Duplicate RTrtPCR results were highly correlated (r2 = 0.9964). The mean viral load from nasal washes obtained on the first study day was 5.75 ± standard error of the mean 0.09 log PFU equivalents (PFUe)/ml. Viral load by RTrtPCR correlated with plaque assay results (r2 = 0.158; P < 0.0001). Within individuals, upper and lower respiratory tract secretions contained similar viral concentrations. RSV-A-infected children had 1.17 log PFUe higher viral loads than did those with RSV-B (P < 0.0001). RSV quantification by RTrtPCR of the N gene is precise and has significant, though limited, correlation with quantitative culture. The utility of the RTrtPCR quantification technique for clinical studies would be solidified after its correlation with RSV disease severity is established.