The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new vaccine for RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a virus that causes lower respiratory tract disease in ages 60 and over.

This is the first vaccine for RSV to be FDA-approved. Between 60,000 and 100,000 hospitalizations and 6,000 to 10,000 deaths of those over age 65 are attributed to RSV each year in the United States.


RSV is dangerous to those who are older as well as the very young. For the older population, in addition to lower respiratory tract disease, it can affect the throat and nose, as well as breathing passages.

RSV can create a severe infection that can cause pneumonia and other serious conditions. Among them is bronchiolitis, an impairment that causes swelling in the small airways in the lungs. Symptoms of asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and congestive heart failure can worsen because of RSV in older people. 

The American Lung Association reports that adults most at risk for RSV infection are those with weakened immune systems, chronic heart or lung disease and those over age 65.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that as people age, their immune systems can weaken, thereby increasing risk when older people contract RSV.

According to Mayo Clinic, RSV has infected most children by the age of 2. Older, healthy children, as well as adults, usually experience symptoms like those of a cold and recover from mild infection. Infants, especially premature babies and children under 12 months of age, are more susceptible to severe cases.

CDC states that RSV is the most frequent infection that causes pneumonia and bronchiolitis in children under 12 months of age. It is important to note that the newly approved vaccine is only available to people over age 60.


Symptoms usually appear within four to six days of infection and include wheezing, fever and a decrease in appetite. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose and dry cough may also occur. These symptoms, along with headache and a dry cough, usually happen with non-severe RSV cases.

In more serious infections, RSV may cause a more intense cough and wheezing, signaled by a high-pitched sound while exhaling. Difficulty breathing or unusually rapid breathing may also begin. Because RSV restricts the movement of oxygen, a bluish tint may appear on the skin.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases states those who contract RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days and that symptoms may last up to two weeks.

Even after symptoms subside, healthy people can still spread RSV. When the infected person has a compromised immune system, the virus can be spread even after symptoms cease, sometimes up to four weeks.

Prevention methods

RSV is highly contagious. It can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, causing droplets to be absorbed by another person. Direct contact with the skin of an infected person through touching can spread the virus, along with touching surfaces where infected droplets may be present.

If a surface containing the virus, such as a doorknob or table, is touched and then the hand touches the face, the virus can lead to infection. On hard surfaces, including tables, doorknobs and crib rails, the virus may be active for hours. On softer surfaces, RSV will be active for a shorter time. 

In addition to the vaccine, there are other preventative measures, according to CDC. They include practicing good hygiene, like diligent handwashing, avoiding visits to childcare centers and keeping frequently touched surfaces clean. Avoiding people with possible symptoms and not touching the face with unwashed hands are also recommended.

If someone has been diagnosed with RSV, or if cold symptoms exist, there are ways to prevent spreading the virus. It is encouraged to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoid direct contact with others and avoid workplaces and public places while infected.

Because RSV is a respiratory infection, it often spreads during the time of year that cold, flu and other respiratory illnesses are prevalent. Those periods can vary in different areas of the United States. Several laboratory tests are available to determine if a person is infected with RSV.

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If you have questions about your cardiovascular health, including heart, blood pressure, stroke lifestyle and other issues, we want to answer them. Please submit your questions to Dr. Haqqani by email at [email protected] .

Omar P. Haqqani is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland.


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