Importance of RSV Prevention
What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms, including runny nose, sneezing, cough, wheezing, fever, and decreased appetite. These symptoms may worsen and lead to severe infections in the bronchioles (small airways that lead to the lungs) and in the lungs. In the United States, RSV season starts in the fall and peaks in the winter, but the timing and severity of RSV season in a given community can vary from year to year (https://www.cdc.gov/surveillance/nrevss/rsv/index.html).
Who is at risk for severe disease?
RSV can be dangerous for the very young and very old. Newborns, infants, young children, and elderly individuals with chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease or weakened immune systems are especially at risk.
Is there a treatment if you get RSV?
Treatment of RSV is only to manage the symptoms. Because there is no specific antiviral treatment for the infection, prevention is key.
How do I prevent myself and family members from getting RSV?
For newborns, infants, and young children, two monoclonal antibody medications, nirsevimab (Beyfortus®) and palivizumab (Synagis®), are available to help protect them from getting a serious RSV illness. These medications are not vaccines but provide immune protection. This protection will fade over time, so the timing of these injections is important. The CDC recommends that all infants younger than 8 months of age born during or entering RSV season receive a dose of nirsevimab. Children up to 24 months of age who have underlying medical conditions may also receive a dose of nirsevimab for their second RSV season. Palivizumab is recommended for infants born prematurely who are 6 months or younger at the beginning of the season and for children up to 24 months of age with underlying medical conditions. Palivizumab must be given as multiple injections over the RSV season.
For people 60 years of age and older, two vaccines are available to prevent serious respiratory disease caused by RSV: Abrysvo® and Arexvy®. Either vaccine may be given as a one-time injection.
Women who are pregnant may receive a dose of respiratory syncytial virus vaccine (Abrysvo®) in the third trimester of pregnancy (between 32 and 36 weeks) to prevent their newborn from getting RSV and severe lower respiratory tract disease. The immunity passed to the infant will provide protection against RSV from birth through 6 months of age.
What is shared decision-making, and how do I talk to my provider about whether the RSV vaccine is right for me?
Shared decision making is the process of talking with your doctor or pharmacist about risks and benefits of a treatment. If you are 60 years of age or older, the CDC recommends that you have a conversation with a healthcare professional to discuss your medical condition and learn about the risks and benefits of the vaccine. This discussion will help you decide if getting an RSV vaccine is right for you.
The best way to prevent the young and old from getting serious cases of RSV is to make sure they receive preventative treatment with monoclonal antibodies (newborns, infants, and young children) and vaccines (adults over 60 years of age). Individuals of all ages should also practice good hygiene measures, such as washing hands, avoiding contact with sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if you are sick, especially during peak RSV season.