RSV in the News

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2022 | Last updated: February 2024

As the temperature drops each fall and winter, so do our chances of staying healthy. Unfortunately, this means that respiratory infections like RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are on the rise. This probably is no surprise to you, as you may have already heard about RSV in the news.

RSV is a hot topic in the news because of the recent uptick in cases, especially among children. It is easy and quick to spread, so when one person gets it, others in their family and school are likely to catch it too. In some cases, RSV can cause severe symptoms, such as:1-3

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fever

What is RSV?

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus, a common virus that causes respiratory (breathing) infections. It spreads quickly by contact with an infected person or through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. Most people who get RSV will have mild symptoms, but it can be severe in some cases, especially for those at risk.4

RSV can mimic the common cold, but the symptoms tend to last longer. RSV symptoms include:3,4

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion

Some people may also develop an ear infection or bronchitis (inflammation of the main airways).3,4

Who is at risk?

Anyone can get RSV, but certain groups of people are more likely to become seriously ill. Infants and young children less than 2 years old have the highest risk of getting severe symptoms like pneumonia or bronchiolitis (an infection in the tiny airways leading to their lungs).4

Older adults, those over 65, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease are also at increased risk for more serious RSV infection.4

Since RSV is highly contagious, it spreads quickly in close quarters like classrooms and daycares, where germs can travel easily between people. A recent increase in cases has made RSV a topic of discussion among parents and healthcare workers.1,2

Helping protect those at risk

You can help protect those at risk by taking certain precautions, such as washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with those who are sick, and staying home when you feel unwell.5

Disinfecting high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, tables, and countertops can also help limit the spread of germs. Also, if you have a baby or older adult in your house, keep their living space clean.5

RSV vaccine advances

Thanks to decades of research, 2 RSV vaccines were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2023. The vaccines, Arexvy and Abrysvo, are available and recommended for people ages 60 and older. For pregnant people who are 32 to 36 weeks pregnant, Abrysvo is available to protect infants. Both vaccines protect those at risk from serious illness and hospitalization due to RSV.4,6,7

Researchers are still working on ways that vaccines can protect other groups who are at risk for RSV. In February 2024, the FDA granted Priority Review to extend the indication of Arexvy to include adults ages 50 to 59 who have chronic health conditions.8

The Priority Review application is supported by positive results from a phase 3 clinical trial in this population. If approved, Arexvy would be the first RSV vaccine to protect adults ages 50 and older with underlying medical conditions.8

Stay aware

The news is abuzz with talk of RSV this season. It is important to be aware of this virus. It could be dangerous, especially for babies, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.4

Take care of yourself and your loved ones this season by practicing healthy habits, such as washing hands often and disinfecting surfaces. Staying up to date on vaccines is another way to protect people who are at risk for RSV. Check with your doctor to learn which vaccines you may need, and make an appointment today. Together, we can stay healthy and safe!1,2,5

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