RSV Incidence and Prevalence


Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, FAAFP, discusses the prevalence of RSV.

Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, FAAFP: RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a very common infection. We tend to see it more in the fall season. It infects the upper airway and is spread through coughing, sneezing, and those little droplet nuclei that often contain the virus. If you come in contact with a person [with] symptoms, they may have spread symptoms even before and after they’ve [felt] ill. You can be exposed to this in the grocery store, anywhere out in the community, at work. It’s a very common illness. It tends to give people a lot of upper respiratory symptoms, but when it really gets dangerous, it moves down into the chest and the lungs.

There are several different respiratory viruses, but the ones that I think people are most familiar with are COVID-19 [and] influenza…. RSV is actually very common. We see it in both children and adults. Most children will be exposed to RSV by 2 years of age. It’s very well known in the pediatric world…. But we don’t know so much about it in the adult space. When you think about COVID-19 and you think about flu, we know we have treatments for those. RSV is at least as common, possibly even more common, but we’ve had no treatment for it. So for many years, there’s been no testing for it. Many people think, “I’ve had a common cold.” The problem is that for some patients, it becomes very life threatening.

RSV infections are particularly risky for several populations of patients. First of all, anyone can get RSV, but [individuals who are aged] 65 or older and even 60 or older [are more at risk,] especially if they have some kind of comorbidities. For instance, [individuals with] lung disease, heart disease, maybe a bone marrow transplant: [They] are at risk of RSV infection moving down into their lungs, requiring hospitalization, perhaps a ventilator; it can be lethal. Depending on the numbers you look at, [there can be] anywhere from 60,000 to 160,000 people each year in the adult community hospitalized. But there are 6000 to 10,000 deaths from RSV. And many people don’t think about this for adults. There are unfortunately several hundred deaths in children every year ….

Generally, when we think about RSV infection in pediatric populations, every child before the age of 2 years [is likely to] be infected.During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw RSV occurring year round, which is highly unusual. Typically, it’s a fall infection, [starting] in late August or early September and [going] all the way into March. In pediatrics, it’s the most common cause of hospitalization. We see that same time frame for adults. In adults, there are usually hospitalizations, 60,000 to 160,000 hospitalized every year. And those are only the ones we know about; this is probably vastly under recorded. About 6000 to 10,000 deaths have been identified as being [from] RSV, but it may be much higher than that.

Transcript edited for clarity.

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