Respiratory syncytial virus

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in older adults | 2 min read

Older adults have an increased risk of severe complications from the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV, because immune systems weaken as you grow older. 

What is the respiratory syncytial virus?

The Respiratory Syncytial Virus was first recognized as a cause of bronchiolitis among infants in 1957. RSV is an enveloped RNA virus belonging to the Pneumoviridae family and the Orthopneumovirus genus, causing severe lung disease in the adult population, particularly among the elderly.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

  • Congested or runny nose.
  • Dry cough.
  • Low-grade fever.
  • Sore throat.
  • Sneezing.
  • Headache.
  • Wheezing — a high-pitched noise, usually heard when breathing out (exhaling).
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing — the person may prefer to sit up rather than lie down.
  • Bluish skin color due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis).

How does RSV get transmitted?

Transmission of RSV occurs either through large droplet inoculation in the eyes, nose, or mouth from having close contact with an RSV-infected person. RSV can also be transmitted from environmental surfaces for an extended period: for up to six hours on nonporous surfaces, 90 minutes on gloves, 30 to 45 minutes on paper, and 20 minutes on the skin.

Which adults are more likely to get RSV?

RSV infections can be dangerous to adults:

  • Older than 65 years. 
  • Those with chronic heart or lung disease.
  • Adults with weakened immune systems.

When to consult a doctor?

Consult an Intercare doctor if you have difficulty breathing, a high fever, or blue color to the skin, particularly on the lips and in the nail beds.


Htar, M.T.T., Yerramalla, M.S., Moïsi, J.C. and Swerdlow, D.L., 2020. The burden of respiratory syncytial virus in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Epidemiology & Infection, 148.

Haber, N., 2018. Respiratory syncytial virus infection in elderly adults. Medecine et maladies infectieuses, 48(6), pp.377-382.

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