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RSV: Who Is REALLY at Risk?

It is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season (again). I was just listening to a podcast called "Incubation," and the doctor said she dreads this time of year because the halls of the emergency room are full of patients young and old who are struggling with RSV. She knows it is going to be long and busy days during RSV season.

Many people think RSV is "just like a cold" and you will just have to tough it out.

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My son's experience with RSV and asthma

But RSV can make people of any age very sick and put them in the hospital. In fact, my son was 5 (yes, 5), when he ended up in the hospital for a week with RSV, asthma, and pneumonia. Yes, a week! And at 5 years old.

Every nurse and respiratory therapist who came into my son's room would say, "It's so unusual to have a 5-year-old with RSV in the hospital!"

Yes, so I've heard...

Who is really at risk of RSV?

Most news stories just talk about RSV in babies. My son definitely was not a baby, but that is all I hear on the news – that RSV only affects babies.

I was listening to an expert panel from the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) discuss RSV. One of the panelists said:

"...all persons of all ages, both healthy and with underlying conditions, are at risk for this disease, although the morbidity is greatest in those under 2 and also those over the age of 65. Data indicate that RSV impacts the elderly population, both in the community and in nursing homes, similar to non-pandemic influenza, resulting in the same number of hospitalizations, intensive-care visits, and mortality." 1

Another panelist says that most adults think they just have a head cold. But in about 25 percent of adults, RSV will move in the lower respiratory system, and the person will end up with bronchitis or pneumonia – and end up with a hospital stay.1,2

Having raised 3 kids, I know the worry of having a sick baby with an immune system that is not ready to fight off infections yet. And when they are little, they cannot tell you what's wrong. So you have to try to figure it out.

Are they having a hard time breathing? Is it colic? Are they too hot? Too cold? Hungry? Bored? Overwhelmed with people and sounds?

And I know what it is like to have an older child end up in the hospital with RSV and asthma that led to pneumonia and a week-long hospital stay.

In the "Incubation" podcast, the doctor said she worries most about babies and older adults because babies do not have an immune system yet, and older adults have an immune system that is winding down and not able to fight off infections. Well, huh.3

Vaccines for RSV

Preventing RSV can include the basics: hand washing, covering your nose when you sneeze so you don't infect others, etc. Personally, I still wear a mask out in public because I do not want to get really sick again. The last time I had COVID, I was sick for months and needed supplemental oxygen due to my cranky asthma lungs. I don't want COVID, the flu, or RSV!

For the first time, RSV vaccines are available for babies, pregnant women, and older adults. Hopefully, this can help prevent hospitalizations and deaths from RSV.3

Remember: Anyone, at any age, is at risk of RSV. And I definitely do not want me or my kids to end up in the hospital!

Has anyone else ended up in the hospital with RSV and asthma?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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