Advance with MUSC Health

RSV Vaccination For Adults: A Crucial Defense Against Respiratory Illness

November 03, 2023
A group of four elderly individuals smiling and laughing together.

While historically, RSV was thought to only affect very young children, it is now known that RSV can adversely affect adults, especially if you are over 60 years old and have conditions that put you at increased risk of illness. These risks include conditions like diabetes, COPD, asthma, and heart disease; your risk is also increased if you are on medications, including chemotherapy, that lower immunity.

What is RSV?

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common and very contagious respiratory virus. Symptoms of RSV include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, headache and tiredness. While most RSV symptoms are mild, in more severe RSV infections, shortness of breath or trouble breathing can occur.

If you get RSV, you will be contagious for three to eight days. Most of the time, the symptoms are mild, but being an older adult can put you at risk of getting more severe disease. RSV infections commonly begin to occur during the fall, peak in the winter, and subside during the spring in most regions of the U.S.

Preventing RSV

There is an RSV vaccine now available for adults to receive. It is recommended adults aged 60 years and older talk to their primary care physician or pharmacist about receiving this vaccine. One dose of the vaccine protects the adult for two years. While the vaccine may not totally prevent you from getting RSV, it will lessen the symptoms of the virus and likely prevent hospitalization.

Conditions that put you at increased risk of more severe RSV symptoms include asthma, COPD, diabetes, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. If you take medication that lowers your immune system, you are also at increased risk.

Why Get the RSV Vaccine

While washing your hands frequently, avoiding sick people, keeping your hands off your face, covering your cough and sneezes and cleaning and disinfecting the surfaces around you can help prevent the spread of RSV, you still can get it and spread it to others. Getting the RSV vaccine can reduce your chances of getting RSV and decrease the chances you may need to be hospitalized.

The RSV vaccine is like other vaccines when it comes to potential side effects. Soreness at the injection site, redness at the injection site, fatigue, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea or joint pain are possible with the injection but are short-term if they happen. The RSV vaccine is a one-time vaccine and is recommended every two years.

Now is the time to get the RSV vaccine! It is flu season and RSV season. Why not get the flu vaccine and the RSV vaccine at the same time? Talk to your primary care provider and/or your pharmacist about the RSV vaccine today.