Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a highly contagious illness with mild cases having similar symptoms to a cold or flu. Many people associate RSV with young children, however, RSV can affect people of all ages. In fact, adults over the age of 60 are among those at increased risk of developing serious respiratory issues from RSV, even more so if they have underlying conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, diabetes or congestive heart failure. RSV can worsen such conditions and may lead to hospitalization. And while young children may have higher rates of hospitalization, most deaths attributed to RSV occur in older adults.
So, what happens that makes us more vulnerable to RSV once we’re older? As we age, our immune system weakens, which makes us less able to fight off infections and can increase our vulnerability to viruses like RSV. This natural, age-related decline in immune function becomes more evident the older we get, making older adults more likely to face severe problems and potentially become hospitalized with RSV.
Getting sick with RSV at an older age can also have long-term impacts, including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke weeks or months after catching the virus, which can also lead to loss of mobility and independence.
While preventive options for RSV are in development, there’s currently no vaccine or treatment for RSV in adults, making it crucial to take steps to avoid catching it. Regularly washing your hands and avoiding close contact with people who are sick, even if that means having to skip a visit with the grandkids or outings with friends, are effective measures you can take.