What is RSV? Why older Canadians need to know about it

Of all the things you can get sick with, respiratory syncytial virus – known as RSV – might not be top of mind. But it’s an important one to be aware of, especially for older adults.

The common, highly contagious virus is sometimes perceived as a bug that children pick up in daycare or other group settings and typically presents itself similar to a cold or flu. However, RSV can make anyone sick, and older adults are among those at increased risk for serious infection. In fact, most deaths attributed to RSV occur in adults 65 and older.

Underlying conditions common in adults such as diabetes and lung or heart disease, can increase the risk of serious effects from RSV, but even those without chronic conditions are more vulnerable to infections and health complications than younger people. This is because of the natural decline in how well our immune system functions as we age.

The immune system – like our vision and metabolism – typically peaks in young adulthood and then starts a slow and steady decline, which leaves older adults more susceptible to infections and health complications.

While preventative options for RSV are in development, there’s currently no vaccine or specific treatment available in Canada for adults. Further, immunity gained from previous exposure to RSV is short-lived, making it possible to catch the virus again and again.

Without vaccines or treatment, practicing general infection control measures to avoid it can help. Washing your hands frequently, not touching your face, covering your coughs and sneezes in public, regularly disinfecting surfaces you touch often and avoiding time spent close to anyone who is ill are all things you can do to help reduce your risk.

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