Heightening RSV awareness – not just for babies anymore.

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The risks associated with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in newborns are generally well known. Parents of infants – particularly babies who were born prematurely – are routinely educated on precautions to protect their newborns against exposure, and pediatricians are vigilant about recognizing the symptoms. However, RSV infection is not exclusive to small children; it can occur at any age. In addition to very young infants, elderly adults are a population at risk to become seriously ill from RSV, yet it is not typically a top concern for physicians who treat this age group.

A new collaborative research effort by RTI-HS and Novavax, recently published in PLOS ONE, was undertaken to address an important evidence gap in understanding the health burden of RSV in older adults. Researchers cataloged the number of adults aged 60 years and older who were documented as having RSV illness based on literature published during the last 15 years. They also looked at the clinical implications and health care resource use associated with this diagnosis.

The study found RSV may have been the underlying cause in up to 12% of acute respiratory infections requiring a doctor’s care in the older-adult population. However, there was seasonal and study-to-study variation. Of older adults with RSV illness, 16% were hospitalized, with stays of 3 to 6 days. Many of these stays were in intensive care units and required breathing support. For 6 - 8% of patients hospitalized for RSV, their infection was ultimately fatal. 

The study results indicate that RSV may have similar clinical and economic impacts on older adults as influenza because of their increased vulnerability to serious infections. “We are realizing that there is a need for programs to heighten awareness of RSV in this population,” states Ann Colosia, PhD, Associate Director of Market Access and Outcomes Strategy at RTI-HS and lead author of the study. “Also, this research demonstrates the need to more fully understand the incidence and clinical and economic burden of RSV in older adults, which could help stimulate more interest in developing vaccines or other therapies,” notes Dr. Colosia.

Colosia AD, Yang J, Hillson E, Mauskopf J, Copley-Merriman C, Shinde V, Stoddard J The epidemiology of medically attended respiratory syncytial virus in older adults in the United States: a systematic review.

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