As the autumn months approach, it is important to be prepared for an increase in respiratory viruses. While the focus has largely been on COVID-19 in recent times, other respiratory illnesses, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), are expected to circulate more widely as people return to pre-pandemic lifestyles and spend more time indoors.
RSV is a highly contagious virus that spreads through the air after a cough or sneeze and can survive on surfaces for several hours. It poses a significant threat to both young children and older adults, as it can lead to serious pneumonias. In fact, RSV infection is almost universal among infants and toddlers, with nearly all children experiencing it by the time they reach 2 years old. Premature infants are particularly vulnerable, but even full-term infants can be affected. Common symptoms in children include congestion, cough, runny eyes, runny nose, and wheezing.
However, RSV is not limited to young children. In adults over the age of 60, RSV infection can result in 6,000 to 10,000 deaths each year. Adults with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, COPD, heart disease, and compromised immune systems, are at the highest risk of complications. Symptoms in adults are similar to those in children, but they may be mistaken for a typical head cold or seasonal allergies. Adults with risk factors may experience shortness of breath or difficulty with thinking and processing information.
Fortunately, there are new tools available for preventing RSV infection. The FDA recently approved a new vaccine specifically for adults over the age of 60. This one-dose vaccine can be administered alongside other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, and is available through local pharmacies, private providers, and health departments. It is recommended that the vaccine be distributed now to provide protection to vulnerable individuals.
For children, there is a preventative treatment in the form of an antibody treatment. This treatment helps boost their immune systems and provides temporary protection for about five months, which aligns with the duration of the RSV season. It is recommended as a one-time dose for children under 8 months old who are experiencing their first RSV season. Children with underlying health conditions may receive additional treatments as advised by their primary care provider.
In order to protect yourself and your loved ones from respiratory viruses, such as RSV, it is crucial to practice proper handwashing and consider taking advantage of the available vaccines and treatments. By taking these precautions, we can reduce the risk of illness and spend more time creating cherished memories during the autumn months.
– Hope Peritz, Blue Ridge Health District and Immunization Action Plan coordinator.