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For this month’s blog, Dr. Eigen has prepared a response to answer a question from the community:
Question from the Community:
What is RSV and should I protect myself with a vaccine?
Dr. Eigen’s Response:
RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, is a common virus that may cause clinically significant disease in infants and young children. Typically, it causes only minor illness in adults and has been only a cause of what we refer to as a cold. Studies have shown that by the age of two years over 90% of children have had RSV infection with only about 10% having serious illness. It is possible to get RSV infections several times in life usually without serious clinical disease. RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults.
RSV infections can be dangerous for certain adults. Each year, it is “estimated” that between 60,000-160,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized and 6,000-10,000 die due to RSV infection. I cannot find a source for these “estimates” and the range of estimates is too broad to give me faith that these are scientifically derived numbers, especially the death rate.
That said, adults at highest risk for severe RSV disease include older adults, adults with chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, weakened immune systems, or certain other underlying medical conditions, or who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.
RSV spreads through direct contact with the virus, such as droplets from another person’s cough or sneeze contacting your eyes, nose, or mouth. It can also be spread by touching a surface that has the virus on it, and then touching your face before washing your hands. This is the case with many common respiratory viruses.
Symptoms of RSV infection in adults may include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, or wheezing.
Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can sometimes be serious, resulting in shortness of breath and low oxygen levels. RSV can sometimes lead to worsening of other medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or congestive heart failure.
The new RSV vaccine can prevent lower respiratory tract disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This vaccine is different from the COVID vaccine in that RSV vaccine prevents a person from acquiring the virus rather than mitigating the disease once the virus infects the patient. There are two RSV vaccines approved for use in adults. The recommendation to get the vaccine is only for those over 60 years of age.
The possible side effects are pain, redness, and swelling where the shot is given, fatigue, fever, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain are also possible after RSV vaccination. These side effects are usually mild. However, a small number of participants in clinical trials developed serious neurologic conditions, including Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), after RSV vaccination. GBS is a rare condition in which your immune system attacks your nerves, causing symptoms such as weakness. and sometimes paralysis. Although most people recover completely, some cases can be fatal or have lasting effects.
What should you do about getting the vaccine? The rationale for getting the RSV vaccine is good, but not absolute. If we are over 60 or have any of the factors that predispose you to severe disease, each of us should consult with our own physicians and together decide if the shot is right for us. I would not simply go to a clinic or pharmacy that gives the shots, but does not clearly understand your personal medical history. This is shared clinical decision making and is the path recommended by the CDC.
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