RSV: A Hidden Epidemic in Adults 60+

Living East Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – As COVID continues in Knoxville, most people who are age 60 and up — even those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — don’t know they are at high risk for another deadly respiratory virus on the rise: RSV.

What is RSV?

RSV, which stands for Respiratory Syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) Virus, is a highly contagious respiratory virus that that infects the lungs and breathing passages. Among healthy adults, RSV causes cold-like symptoms that are usually relatively mild.

However, RSV can be deadly for the two ends of the age spectrum – infants and toddlers and adults 60 years and older.

What are signs that an RSV infection is serious?

RSV is specific to the pulmonary system, most notably a dry, frequent cough or wheezing. Similar to COVID-19, RSV infections are serious when it reaches the lower respiratory tract, causing inflammation in the small breathing tubes and tiny air sacs the lungs — making it increasingly difficult to breathe. Severe RSV infections may require oxygen or intubation.

How does RSV spread?

Similar to the coronavirus, RSV spreads through respiratory droplets that spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and droplets get in the eyes, nose or mouth of a healthy person.

Unlike the coronavirus, RSV can remain infectious on hard surfaces for up to six hours. Touching surfaces with the virus and then touching the face can expose people to RSV. RSV infections generally occur during fall, winter, and spring. However, the CDC recently issued an RSV Health Advisory to notify clinicians and caregivers about a current surge in RSV.

Why is RSV life-threatening to people 60 and older?

Because the immune system weakens with age, ALL ADULTS who are age 60 and up are at a higher risk for RSV. And it’s not just “the elderly.” Even the most active seniors have a weakened immune system as a consequence of age.

Why do most people who are 60 and older not know about their risk for RSV?

Pediatricians have known about RSV in children, but RSV has often flown under the radar for doctors who care for senior adults.

Every year, the CDC estimates 177,000 older adults are hospitalized with RSV (an estimated 58,000 children are hospitalized annually). RSV causes an estimated 14,000 deaths in people 60+ in the U.S. (and an estimated 200-500 deaths in children).

In general, RSV has been underdiagnosed in older patients. When an older person is admitted to the hospital for respiratory insufficiency, some doctors test for RSV, but a majority do not.

Because doctors often code untested respiratory infections as the flu or viral pneumonia, RSV hospitalization and death statistics are likely to be much higher.

How can we prevent RSV?

Currently, there is no specific treatment for RSV and no commercial vaccine available. That’s why precautions (many similar to preventing Covid) are critical to preventing RSV.

· Wash hands frequently

· Keep hands off the face

· Clean and disinfect surfaces

· Cover coughs and sneezes

· Avoid close contact with sick people

· Stay home when sick

AMR Knoxville is now enrolling volunteers — adults who are age 60 and older — to participate is the RSV vaccine study. To inquire about becoming an RSV study volunteer, contact 1-888-259-1231 or visit www.AMRLLC.com/open

Those who qualify will receive, at no cost, study-related medical exams, lab work and an investigational RSV vaccine or placebo. Insurance is not required.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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