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Managing Adult Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Managing Adult Respiratory Syncytial Virus

While it is often thought of as a disease in children, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections cause significant illness and death in older adults every year. Clinicians are urged to learn more about the illness and death caused by RSV in these patients and to develop protocols in anticipation of vaccinations against the virus. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections can cause a variety of respiratory illnesses, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia. In addition to infants and young children, symptomatic RSV infections can occur in adults. The infection usually lasts less than 5 days in healthy adults, and symptoms are often consistent with upper respiratory tract infections. These include runny nose, cough, headache, fatigue, and fever. High-risk adults, such as those with certain chronic illnesses (like congestive heart failure or COPD) or weakened immune systems, may have more severe symptoms with lower respiratory tract involvement. Although people of any age can be infected with RSV, recent data estimate that the virus  commonly impacts older patients, accounting for approximately 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths each year among adults older than age 65. “Studies have found that RSV infection is a significant cause of illness and death in older adults,” says Lindsay Kim, MD, MPH. Modeling studies have also suggested that RSV in older adults occurs with incidence and mortality rates similar to seasonal influenza. In the United States, RSV infections generally occur during the fall, winter, and spring.   A Challenging Diagnosis Since RSV has signs and symptoms that are similar to other viruses, it can be difficult to diagnose RSV in older adults, says Dr. Kim (Table). “As we learn...
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