What is RSV and how can you prepare?

Immunization protects against severe illness for certain age groups and health conditions

What is RSV and how can you prepare?

With cold and flu season now upon us, the presence of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is heightened in many parts of the country.

RSV is a common virus that causes symptoms such as a runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. Though it mimics the symptoms of the common cold, it can lead to more serious problems than a standard cough and runny nose.

This year for the first time, the public has new tools to help combat the worst versions of this virus.

The first-ever vaccines for RSV for adults were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May. These vaccines – the brand names are Arexvy and Abrysvo – are available for older adults and pregnant women to help protect newborns for the first six months of their lives from severe RSV.

There is also a recently FDA-approved monoclonal antibody immunization product called Beyfortus now available for infants that can help prevent severe RSV.

For adults:

A single dose is recommended for adults 60-plus, adults with chronic heart or lung disease, adults with weakened immune systems, and adults living in nursing homes or long-term care locations. The vaccine offers protection for at least two winter seasons. The vaccines have shown to be over 80% effective in preventing lung infections in the first season.

For children:

An RSV immunization is recommended for all infants younger than 8 months who are born during or are entering their first RSV season.

A dose is also recommended for some children between the ages of 8 and 19 months who are at increased risk of severe RSV and who are entering their second RSV season.

One dose can protect infants for 4-6 months, the length of an average RSV season. The immunization reduces the risk of severe RSV by about 80%.

The goal is to immunize all infants for RSV, but due to a nationwide shortage of Beyfortus, the CDC has advised that high-risk infants should be prioritized. A similar treatment for RSV, known as Synagis, is also available. Parents should talk with their child’s health care provider to determine which treatment is right for their child.

For pregnancy:

A single dose is recommended for pregnant people during the middle of the third trimester (between 32 and 36 weeks into a pregnancy). Babies will have protection and should not need an immunization if they are born to mothers who get the RSV vaccine at least two weeks before delivery. Due to the shortage of Beyfortus, it’s highly encouraged that pregnant people get the RSV vaccine to help protect their baby.

“The overall goal is not just to reduce hospitalizations but to reduce the complications associated with an RSV infection,” said Dubert Guerrero, M.D., who practices internal medicine and specializes in infectious diseases and travel medicine at Sanford Medical Center Fargo in North Dakota.

Impact of RSV

Most who get RSV recover within a week or two, but infants and older adults with weak immune systems or heart or lung problems can be vulnerable to complications.

In severe cases, RSV can cause pneumonia, bronchiolitis, fever, severe coughing and wheezing. It can also make symptoms worse for people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or congestive heart failure.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 58,000 to 80,000 children younger than 5 years are hospitalized with RSV infections each year, and about 60,000 to 160,000 older adults are hospitalized with RSV each year. This illness can account for as many as 10,000 deaths a year.

“It is a significant illness,” Dr. Guerrero said. “It is also seasonal, meaning that this time of year – from October to April – is when we see typically see more of it in the United States.”

So what is the best course of action? To start with, familiar flu season guidelines also apply to avoiding RSV. This includes getting vaccinated if the vaccine is available to you, washing your hands, staying home if you’re sick and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

“You can get RSV from somebody who is coughing near you,” Dr. Guerrero said. “It enters though your mouth, lungs, your nose and your eyes. It can be transferred to a surface and if you then touch that surface, you can get it by touching your mouth or eyes. Make sure you wash your hands often and cover your nose and mouth when you’re coughing and sneezing. For little kids, make sure their toys are washed frequently, especially if they’re shared toys.”

Where to get RSV vaccine

Sanford Health encourages you to talk with your primary care provider about an RSV immunization. RSV vaccines and antibody treatments are available at Sanford Health clinics near you.

Find more information about immunizations at Sanford Health.

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Posted In Children's, Family Medicine, Fargo, Healthy Living, Immunizations, Internal Medicine, Pregnancy, Senior Services