This respiratory disease you probably haven’t heard of can impact adults 60+ (hint: it’s not COVID or the flu!)

This respiratory disease you probably haven’t heard of can impact adults 60+ (hint: it’s not COVID or the flu!)

(BPT) – Falling temperatures don’t just mark the start of cold and flu season. There’s another virus that can have serious consequences for older adults.

Here are three things you need to know about RSV.

1. What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common and contagious virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages and typically circulates during the fall, winter and early spring.1

“People tend to think of RSV as an illness primarily affecting infants, but this virus has the potential to impact the lungs and breathing passages of older adults as their immune systems decline with age, and adults with chronic heart and lung disease,’ says Dr. Leonard Friedland, VP, Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health, GSK Vaccines. ‘Being aware and taking preventative measures is especially important now as more people are gathering indoors and preparing to celebrate the holidays.’

Symptoms are typically mild and include:2

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing

Each year approximately 177,000 older adults are hospitalized in the United States due to RSV and of those hospitalizations, an estimated 14,000 adults die because of the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).3 There is no vaccine or specific treatment for RSV in adults, so learning about who is at risk of severe complications from RSV and taking preventative measures are essential, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

2. Which adults are most at risk?

According to Dr. Friedland, those at a higher risk for RSV infection, include:

  • Older adults, especially those aged 65 years and older
  • Adults with weakened immune systems
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease (like asthma and heart failure)

The CDC states RSV can exacerbate underlying conditions and lead to severe outcomes for at-risk adults including pneumonia, hospitalization and death.1,4

“Co-morbidities, which occur when someone has two or more chronic conditions or diseases, are additional factors that can lead to severe complications as a result of RSV,” says Dr. Friedland. “The chance of having co-morbid illnesses increases with age, so it’s important for older adults who are experiencing these issues to talk with a healthcare professional (HCP) about their risk.”

3. How can you prevent an RSV infection?

If you are at high risk for severe RSV infection, or if you interact with an older adult, there are important prevention steps you should take, according to the CDC.5

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Washing your hands will help protect you from germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Germs spread this way.
  • Avoid close contact, such as sharing cups or eating utensils with people who have cold-like symptoms.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that people frequently touch, such as doorknobs. When people infected with RSV touch surfaces and objects, they can leave behind germs. Also, when they cough or sneeze, viral droplets can land on surfaces and objects.
  • Stay at home if you are sick to help prevent spread to others.

The bottom line

Rest and fluids are important to relieve RSV symptoms and help the body heal. Speak with a healthcare professional about using over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage fever. 2 If you are having trouble breathing or your symptoms get worse, call a healthcare provider immediately.

“Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two but for some older adults, it can lead to hospitalization,” explains Dr. Friedland. “By taking preventative measures, learning who is at risk of severe complications due to RSV and maintaining communication with a healthcare provider, you can help yourself or an older loved one in your life stay healthy.”

For more information, visit


  1. CDC. Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection. Available at:
  2. CDC. Symptoms and Care. Available at:
  3. CDC. RSV in Older Adults. Available at:
  4. CDC. For Healthcare Providers. Available at:
  5. CDC. RSV Prevention. Available at:

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