This upcoming flu season is likely to look and feel different. Now more than ever, we’re mindful of precautions such as washing our hands to help us avoid viruses like the flu and COVID-19. And yet, there is another common disease that is often forgotten – Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV. As we continue to be vigilant about taking precautions against COVID-19 and the flu, it is also important for older adults to understand the warning signs of RSV and take the steps necessary to recognize and treat this virus.

“RSV is a common and pervasive cause of acute respiratory illness with a range of symptoms that may appear to be similar to a common cold to some, but for the elderly and the immunocompromised, infection can be far more dangerous,” said Bill Gruber, MD, Senior Vice President of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development.i

More than 170,000 adults are hospitalized for RSV-related infections in the United States, and approximately 14,000 die each year.i

“Unlike the flu, there are no approved antiviral treatments for the disease and no approved vaccines. The medical community is limited to offering supportive care, such as oxygen and fluids, for those experiencing serious infection,” Gruber added.i

RSV is highly contagious and usually affect the lungs and airways, making it critical that both physicians and those at high risk are familiar with the disease and how to prevent infection.ii The virus can spread in many ways – through coughs or sneezes from an infected person, virus droplets getting in the eyes, nose, or mouth, touching a surface with the virus on it, and direct contact with the virus.iii

Though treating RSV is well-understood in the pediatric community – 58,000 children under five are hospitalized each year, and RSV is responsible for more than 2 million outpatient visits in children in the United States – it has been estimated that more than 3 in 4 RSV-related deaths occur in those 65 or older.ii

The risk of serious infection increases in older adults and for those with chronic heart or lung disease or a weakened immune system, and the infections are most common during the fall and winter months.ii

“RSV is an under-recognized disease in older adults, underscoring the importance of raising awareness and continuing research on a potential vaccine to prevent RSV,” said Gruber.iv “Pfizer has been laser focused on our commitment to develop an RSV vaccine for both adults through direct vaccination and infants through maternal immunization.”

Given the human cost of RSV, a safe and effective vaccine could become an option to help reduce the incidence and severity of RSV infections.iv A vaccine for RSV, however, has been an elusive goal for over half a century due to scientific hurdles. Fortunately, a growing body of research has paved the way for encouraging new approaches. For more information on RSV, please visit www.pfizer.com/RSVcommitment.

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i Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Older Adults Are at High Risk for Severe RSV Infection.” Accessed 15 June 2021. Page last reviewed 18 December 2020. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/factsheet-older-adults.html

ii Thompson et al. Mortality Associated With Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus in the United States. JAMA 2003. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/195750.

iii Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “RSV Transmission.” Accessed 07 September 2021. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/about/transmission.html.

iv Branche AR, Falsey AR. Respiratory syncytial virus infection in older adults: an under-recognized problem. Drugs Aging. 2015;32(4):261-269. doi:10.1007/s40266-015-0258-9
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25851217/.