Older Adults are at High Risk for Severe RSV Infection

You may have heard a lot of people talking about RSV recently – and for good reason. Many health officials are referring to this season as a “tripledemic,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are tracking an increase in RSV, flu and COVID-19 cases simultaneously.

You may be wondering, “What is RSV?” or “Why is RSV more common this year?” To help you feel better prepared this season, find the answers to commonly asked questions below, sourced from the CDC website.

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages. RSV can also progress to bronchiolitis or pneumonia in high-risk patients.

RSV infections can be dangerous for certain adults. Adults at highest risk for severe RSV infection include:

  • Older adults, especially those 65 years and older
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
  • Adults with weakened immune systems Each year, it is estimated that between 60,000–120,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized and 6,000–10,000 of them die due to RSV infection.

Severe RSV infection

When an older adult gets RSV infection, they typically have mild cold-like symptoms including runny nose, sore throat, cough, and headache. But RSV can sometimes lead to serious conditions such as:

  • Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
  • More severe symptoms for people with asthma
  • More severe symptoms for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (a chronic disease of the lungs that makes it hard to breathe)
  • Congestive heart failure (when the heart can’t pump blood and oxygen to the body’s tissues)

Older adults who get very sick from RSV may need to be hospitalized. Some may even die. Older adults are at greater risk than young adults for serious complications from RSV because our immune systems weakens when we are older.

Scientists are working to develop vaccines

There is no vaccine to prevent RSV infection yet, but scientists are working hard to develop one. If you are concerned about your risk for RSV, talk to your doctor. In addition, if you are an older adult who is considered high-risk, your physician may recommend home health services to help you remain safe in the comfort of home.