BACKGROUND: The contribution of viral respiratory infections during infancy to the development of subsequent wheezing and/or allergic diseases in early childhood is not established. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate these relationships prospectively from birth to 3 years of age in 285 children genetically at high risk for developing allergic respiratory diseases. METHODS: By using nasal lavage, the relationship of timing, severity, and etiology of viral respiratory infections during infancy to wheezing in the 3rd year of life was evaluated. In addition, genetic and environmental factors that could modify risk of infections and wheezing prevalence were analyzed. RESULTS: Risk factors for 3rd year wheezing were passive smoke exposure (odds ratio [OR]=2.1), older siblings (OR=2.5), allergic sensitization to foods at age 1 year (OR=2.0), any moderate to severe respiratory illness without wheezing during infancy (OR=3.6), and at least 1 wheezing illness with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV; OR=3.0), rhinovirus (OR=10) and/or non-rhinovirus/RSV pathogens (OR=3.9) during infancy. When viral etiology was considered, 1st-year wheezing illnesses caused by rhinovirus infection were the strongest predictor of subsequent 3rd year wheezing (OR=6.6; P < .0001). Moreover, 63% of infants who wheezed during rhinovirus seasons continued to wheeze in the 3rd year of life, compared with only 20% of all other infants (OR=6.6; P < .0001). CONCLUSION: In this population of children at increased risk of developing allergies and asthma, the most significant risk factor for the development of preschool childhood wheezing is the occurrence of symptomatic rhinovirus illnesses during infancy that are clinically and prognostically informative based on their seasonal nature.