NewsYour Health MattersAsk Dr. Nandi

Severe RSV illness possible in adults

RSV Vaccines
Posted at 4:33 PM, Nov 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-09 17:47:01-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — We’ve talked a few times about children getting sick from RSV, respiratory syncytial virus. And how pediatric hospitals are filling up because the virus is spreading much earlier and faster this year. But RSV is actually more dangerous to adults.

The CDC estimates between 100 and 300 children younger than five die each year due to an RSV infection. But for older adults, that estimate is much higher. The infection can cause between 6,000 and 10,000 deaths yearly.

Here are the adults most at risk for severe infection:

• Seniors - age 65 years and older
• Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
• Adults with diabetes or weakened immune systems

Why are these folks more at risk?

As we age, our immune system – which is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that defend our body against infections, can weaken.

Adults who have chronic heart or lung disease and weakened immune systems are already compromised, so their body is not always strong enough to handle the infection.

There are no specific treatments for RSV. For most adults, it’s a mild infection and symptoms include:

• Runny nose
• Loss of appetite
• Coughing
• Sneezing
• Fever

For nasal congestion, adults can use an over-the-counter decongestant, and for coughing, you can take cough syrups.

For those who end up dehydrated or have trouble breathing, they may need additional oxygen, IV fluids, or in worst-case scenarios, intubation with mechanical ventilation.

If anyone develops serious symptoms, please seek medical treatment right away.

As for vaccines, right now, there aren’t any for adults, but there are nine in advanced trials.

One of them is from the global biopharma company, GSK. Its vaccine reportedly had an 83% efficacy against serious illness in adults older than 60.

The FDA will review the data towards the end of this year.

In the meantime, remember to wash your hands often and wear a mask if you’re high risk. That’s because RSV is spread through coughing, sneezing, or touching an infected surface and then touching your face.