What to Know About RSV in Older Adults

Anyone can get respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), but babies less than a year old  — and increasingly adults over 65, particularly those with heart and lung disease or weakened immune systems – are at greatest risk.

This highly contagious virus primarily affects the respiratory system, with common symptoms including a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever, headache, and wheezing. 

In most cases, adults with RSV only suffer mild symptoms that go away within two weeks. But in severe cases, RSV can cause bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) or pneumonia (lung infection). Between 60,000 – 120,000 older adults are hospitalized, and 6,000 – 10,000 die from RSV infection in the United States annually.

For the first time, RSV vaccines are now available. The CDC recommends RSV vaccines for pregnant people during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy, babies, and adults 60 years and older. 

Board-certified internal medicine physician Rajesh B. Dave, MD of Gulf West Medical Associates in Port Richey, Florida, can advise whether this new vaccine is right for you. Here, he breaks down everything you need about RSV and preventive steps to avoid getting it this fall or winter.

RSV 101

RSV shares similarities with other respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold and influenza. However, it also has some distinct characteristics:

Because the symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory viruses, such as a cold, flu, and COVID-19, an RSV diagnosis usually requires confirmation via laboratory testing.

Healthy adults infected with RSV who have few symptoms can still spread the virus to others.

Who's at risk?

Older adults at greater risk of developing severe complications include:

If you’re a member of any of these groups, consult Dr. Dave about getting the new RSV vaccine.

Treating RSV in adults

There is no specific treatment for RSV infection. As with many other viruses, drinking plenty of fluids and resting is the best advice for mild symptoms. If you have COPD or asthma, use prescribed medications to reduce breathing difficulties, and speak with Dr. Dave to discuss whether your medications need to be adjusted.

The RSV vaccine and other preventive measures

The vaccine aims to boost your immune response against RSV, reducing the severity of infections and the risk of complications. 

RSV is typically transmitted through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your face. This makes good hand hygiene and avoiding close contact with sick individuals essential in preventing the spread of RSV. 

During peak RSV season — fall through winter — Dr. Dave also recommends masking or social distancing in crowded indoor settings.

To learn more about RSV, your risk, and the new vaccine, call Gulf West Medical Associates at 727-848-0247 or use our online booking tool to schedule an appointment today.

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