RSV in Older Adults and Adults with Chronic Medical Conditions
RSV infections can be dangerous for certain adults. 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. 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
When an adult gets RSV infection, they typically have mild cold-like symptoms, but some may develop a lung infection or pneumonia.
RSV can sometimes also lead to worsening of serious conditions such as:
- 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 enough blood and oxygen through the body
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 weaken when we are older.
RSV circulation starts in the fall and peaks in the winter. If you are at high risk for severe RSV infection, or if you interact with an older adult, you should take extra care to keep them healthy:
- Wash your hands often
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Washing your hands will help protect you from germs.
- Keep your hands off your face
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Germs spread this way.
- Avoid close contact with sick people
Avoid close contact, such as kissing, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who have cold-like symptoms.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that people frequently touch, such as toys, doorknobs, and mobile devices. When people infected with RSV touch surfaces and objects, they can leave behind germs. Also, when they cough or sneeze, droplets containing germs can land on surfaces and objects.
- Stay home when you are sick
If possible, stay home from work, school, and public areas when you are sick. This will help protect others from catching your illness.
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 healthcare provider.