What You Need to Know About RSV

No, you’re not alone. Many are going through the process: coughing, sneezing, wheezing

By Barbara Pierce

We’re at that time of winter where it seems like almost everyone’s either coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose.

The trifecta of illnesses is winning: COVID-19, the flu and RSV. All three potentially deadly viruses are spreading across New York state. Older folks are advised to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a flu shot and the RSV vaccine.

We’ve learned about the COVID-19 vaccine in recent years, we’ve been getting our flu shot regularly, but we wondered what is this RSV we’re hearing about lately? Do we need yet another vaccine?

According to the CDC, RSV, (respiratory syncytial virus) is a respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

The virus is spread through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of infected people when they cough and sneeze. Direct contact with the virus, such as kissing, can also spread it.

Common symptoms include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever, decrease in appetite and wheezing.

Though it’s like a cold, it can lead to more dangerous complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis in those with weak immune systems like young children and the elderly.

Eric Faisst, director of Madison County Public Health, answered our questions about RSV.

Q: Is RSV a serious threat?

A: For most healthy people, illness from RSV is generally mild. Most people recover in two weeks or less on their own. However, some people may develop a severe RSV infection and need hospitalization if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. RSV can be very harmful to children under the age of one, adults aged 60 and older, people with medical conditions or with underlying lung conditions. Severe infections can lead to other serious conditions like pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and worsening symptoms for persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure.

Q: Who should be vaccinated?

A: The CDC recommends RSV immunizations for those most at risk of getting very sick. Says the CDC: The question of whether to get vaccinated is pretty straightforward for people 60 or older — the shot can reduce the risk of hospitalization by around 80%.

Infants and young children in general have one of two ways of getting protection. If you’re pregnant, protect your unborn child with a vaccination. The other is an RSV preventive antibody (also an immunization) provided to a baby if they are younger than 8 months and born during, or entering, their first RSV season.

RSV can be a devastating disorder for newborns, leading to hospitalization and death from pneumonia. RSV is the leading reason infants are hospitalized. The CDC recommends that pregnant women get the vaccine to protect their baby. Currently, the only RSV vaccine FDA has approved as a maternal vaccine is Pfizer’s Abrysvo vaccine. If you’re pregnant, discuss this with your health care provider.

Abrysvo is also approved for older adults. The other RSV vaccine is Arexvy, made by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. However, the FDA has approved Arexvy only for adults 60 and older.

A dose of RSV preventive antibody (not a vaccine) is recommended for babies and children between the ages of 19 months to 8 years, entering their second RSV season, who have chronic lung disease, are severely immunocompromised, or have cystic fibrosis.

Only one shot is needed. You can get it at your pharmacy like https://www.pharm-aidrx.com/ or discuss with your health care professional. The vaccine is safe. Boosters are not necessary. A prescription is not necessary if you are 60 or older or pregnant. Medicare covers the cost. Your insurance won’t charge you a copay or a deductible for vaccines that the government recommends.

Q: How important is it to be vaccinated?

A: “RSV immunizations help protect persons at greater risk of getting seriously ill by helping build up their bodies defenses. Our immune systems weaken with age, therefore, older adults or children with underlying medical conditions may get very sick. Also, a baby’s immune system is not fully developed at birth, putting infants at a great risk of getting very sick.

Q: What should people do to decrease their chances of being exposed to RSV?

A: Everyday prevention actions that everyone takes to decrease their chances of being exposed or of spreading infections from person to person:

• Stay home when you’re sick.

• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow, not your hands.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

• Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

• Avoid close contact with others, such as kissing, shaking hands and sharing cups and eating utensils.

• Clean commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs and phones.

No matter how healthy older adults feel, the reality is immune systems weaken with age, which increases the risk of infections like RSV.

RSV could catch anyone by surprise — especially if you have certain underlying conditions. Infection can be serious, protect yourself with a vaccination.