Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a respiratory virus that is a common cause of lower respiratory tract illness and is most recognized for causing annual epidemics that lead to increased hospitalizations of children in their first or second year of life . However, it is a common misconception that RSV is a mild respiratory illness in adults when, in fact, it can cause symptoms as severe as the flu. An infectious disease expert from Baylor College of Medicine explains.
According to Dr. Robert Atmar, professor of infectious diseases at Baylor, the consequences of lower respiratory diseases like RSV can be serious, especially for adults older than 65 and those with chronic underlying lung disease. heart disease or diabetes.
“One of the reasons that people with these diseases are at higher risk is the underlying disease: the function of the heart, lungs, and immune system they are already compromised and are less able to handle the stress associated with infection,” he said.
Historically, RSV has been fairly predictable, usually occurring from October to March or April, but the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted this pattern. This year, doctors have seen an increase in RSV cases beginning in late September and expect it to be peaking now.
RSV is most commonly recognized in children due to its characteristic clinical findings, such as bronchiolitis, and the availability of sensitive pediatric diagnostic tests. Adults are not typically tested for RSV, and according to Atmar, it is only in recent years that molecular diagnostics have become more widely available for use in adults.
RSV can cause respiratory illnesses characterized by cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, and nasal congestion. Fever is less common but can occur. It can start as an upper respiratory illness, like a cold, moving to the chest as a cold associated with cough and possibly pneumonia. Wheezing can also be a symptom in adults, particularly those with chronic lung disease such as COPD or asthma.
Contact with an infected person is the most common way RSV is transmitted, so hand washing is very important. Atmar also said that the measures we took to decrease the transmission of COVID-19 also affected the spread of other viruses, so those measures, such as wearing masks or respiratory hygiene, could also help prevent RSV transmission.
While there is no specific treatment for RSV, Atmar recommends symptomatic therapy (treatment of symptoms) such as taking a decongestant for nasal congestion or cough suppressants.
News of a possible RSV vaccine for pregnant women is currently making headlines and Atmar said that by this time next year, there may be a vaccine option for older adults as well.
“This is not necessarily a mild infection in all adults. It can be a very serious infection, particularly in older adults and those who have chronic heart and lung disease or diabetes and it is for these reasons that vaccines are being developed for these people at risk. If those vaccines become available, it will be important for approved groups to take them, just like they take the flu shot,” Atmar said. “It’s worth preventing if and when we have a vaccine available to do that, and we may have it in a year or two.”
Baylor College of Medicine
Citation: Yes, adults can get RSV and it can be severe (Nov 4, 2022) Retrieved Nov 5, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-11-adults-rsv-severe.html
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