Can adults get RSV?

Family Health
Feb 15, 2024

St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care Physician Dr. Francisco Fantauzzi offers tips on preventing this respiratory infection

When you hear about respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), your mind most likely thinks about the virus that affects babies and young children. And rightfully so. RSV is a very serious concern for parents and pediatricians.

But that doesn’t mean that adults, particularly older adults and immunocompromised adults, can’t get infected too.

RSV is a virus that attacks the respiratory system, explains Dr. Francisco Fantauzzi, St. Joseph’s/Candler primary care physician in Plaza C at the St. Joseph’s Hospital campus. It basically starts by destroying the walls of the alveoli in the lungs.

Related Article: What is RSV?

“It’s very, very serious in babies, but we also know it can attack adults too,” Dr. Fantauzzi says. “Usually young people with a complete, healthy immune system, they get a cold and it goes away. But older people, people with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or any condition that weakens the immune system, they will likely suffer more.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that between 60,000 to 160,000 older adults in the U.S. are hospitalized with RSV each year. Between 6,000 to 10,000 die due to RSV infection.

Adults at highest risk for severe RSV infection include:

  • Older adults (60 years old and older)
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
  • Adults with weakened immune systems
  • Adults with certain other underlying medical conditions
  • Adults living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities

Diagnosing and treating

RSV typically begins as a cold, and if you are at higher risk of infection, it can progress to RSV. You may develop more severe symptoms than the common cold such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing or lower oxygen levels.

“If you are having a hard time breathing, you can’t catch your breath or have a high fever, it’s time to call your doctor or go to urgent care or the emergency room,” Dr. Fantauzzi advises.

A nasal swab test can help diagnose RSV, which presents in similar fashion as other respiratory illnesses such as the flu and COVID. Then, depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor can make a recommendation for treatment, which may include taking steroid medications, Dr. Fantauzzi says.

Preventing RSV

RSV season in most parts of the U.S. starts in the fall and peaks in winter. If you are at high risk for severe RSV infection, or interact with older adults, you should take extra precaution to try to prevent infection.

Preventing the spread of RSV requires a multi-pronged approach that includes vaccination, good hygiene (washing your hands, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, etc.) and following a healthy lifestyle.

There are currently two RSV vaccines for adults ages 60 and older. It’s a single dose that basically boosts your immune system to fight against infection, Dr. Fantauzzi explains. He recommends RSV vaccination to all his patients 60 and older. He also encourages everyone practice living a healthy lifestyle.

“Get your immunizations and stay up-to-date on them, follow a good diet, exercise regularly and avoid alcohol and smoking – not doing those things will beat down your immune system and make you more prone to get infected and sick.”


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