Washing your hands. Covering your cough and sneeze. Staying home when sick. These actions help limit the spread of common respiratory illness like colds, influenza and coronavirus. To help keep yourself and your communities well, there is another potentially life-threatening virus that should be on your radar. Respiratory syncytial virus – commonly referred to as RSV – is a growing concern, especially for infants, older adults and the immunocompromised.
“RSV is a common cause of acute respiratory illness,” said Dr. Bill Gruber, M.D., senior vice president of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development. “Symptoms can be similar to a common cold for some people, but for the elderly and the immunocompromised, infection can be serious, even deadly.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
•RSV is highly contagious and affects the lungs and airways.
•RSV affects children younger than 6 months of age or children with lung or heart disease.
•The risk of serious RSV infection also increases in older adults and for those with chronic heart or lung disease or a weakened immune system.
•Each year, approximately 58,000 children under 5 years of age are hospitalized with RSV and more than 177,000 older adults are hospitalized and 15,000 of them die in the United States due to RSV.
RSV infections occur in people of all ages. The virus can spread in many ways, including 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, such as kissing someone infected, according to the CDC.
“RSV symptoms mimic the common cold but can worsen in some people. Common symptoms include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing,” said Gruber. “Although RSV is discussed frequently in pediatric care, the risks are not as frequently discussed for people ages 65 and older. No matter your age, if you feel ill, contact your doctor. The best way to know if you have RSV or another type of respiratory illness is an evaluation through your health care provider.”
There is no cure or vaccine for RSV. Health care providers are limited to offering supportive care, such as oxygen and fluids, for those impacted by the illness, according to the Virus Research journal. The best ways to prevent the spread of RSV are to wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, and to stay home if you feel sick, Gruber said.
“We believe there is a clear and urgent global need to develop a safe and effective vaccine to help reduce the incidence and severity of RSV infections,” said Gruber. “A vaccine for RSV has been an elusive goal for over half a century due to scientific hurdles, but Pfizer is committed to developing a potential vaccine for vaccination of adults, as well as pregnant women to help protect their infants from RSV disease.”