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RSV in Older Adults and Adults with Chronic Medical Conditions

Male doctor conversing with senior male patient

RSV infections can be dangerous for certain adults. Each year, it is estimated that more than 177,000 older adults are hospitalized and 14,000 of them die in the United States 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

 

Older Adults Are at High Risk for Severe RSV Infection

Severe RSV Infection

When an adult gets RSV infection, they typically have mild cold-like symptoms. 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 weaken when we are older.

 

What you should do if you or a loved one is at high risk for severe RSV disease

Senior woman washing her hands

RSV season occurs each year in most regions of the U.S. during fall, winter, and spring. 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 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 and doorknobs. 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.

 

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.

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