Nov. 15, 2022 -- Respiratory syncytial virus, the common, highly contagious, virus that infects the respiratory tract of many young children, is now sending more older people to the hospital.

Six in 100,000 older American adults are being hospitalized with RSV, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 10 times higher than the normal rate, Prevention reports.

Pediatric cases have been skyrocketing this year, and the effect on adults is connected to that surge, said Thomas Russo, MD, at the University at Buffalo.

“There’s more virus circulating and exposure to young children that have RSV — they can transmit it to seniors,” Russo said. “There’s a huge disease burden in the pediatric population right now and there will obviously be spillover, including in seniors interacting with grandchildren.”

The biggest concern is that it could lead to pneumonia.

Symptoms include runny, nose, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, and fever.

Ahead of family holiday gatherings, doctors caution that anyone who might have RSV stay home to minimize social interaction, particularly with people over 65.

Everyone should be vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu so there’s less risk of passing respiratory viruses, said William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. 

And washing hands is important, because RSV can spread on surfaces, he said. Older adults should also consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings or around young children.

Show Sources

Prevention: “Older Adults Are Being Hospitalized for RSV at 10 Times the Usual Rate”

CDC: “RSV-NET Interactive Dashboard”

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