Respiratory Syncytial Virus Poses Risk to Elderly

Vaccination should be on schedule
for elderly patients with RSV
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Although pediatricians are well aware of RSV, most internists rarely consider RSV in adult patients. However, an estimated 14,000 elderly and high-risk adults die annually from an RSV infection, according to research by Ann R. Falsey, M.D.

The study confirms the need for the development of an RSV vaccine for elderly and high-risk adults, says Falsey, an associate professor of medicine and the study's principal investigator.

Falsey says: "For the elderly, RSV can be serious, similar to the flu. Overall, RSV causes a substantial burden of disease in adults. Development of a vaccine would be worthwhile." The four-year study by researchers is the first large investigation over a substantial period of time that used state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques.

The group followed 1,388 hospitalised patients, 608 healthy people over the age of 65, and 540 adults who were considered high risk because of a diagnosis of congestive heart failure or chronic pulmonary disease. Diagnosis was confirmed by culture, molecular diagnostics or serologic test. A total of 2,514 illnesses were evaluated.

The impact of RSV infection on both the healthy elderly and the high-risk group was significant. RSV infection, for example, accounted for 10.6 percent of hospitalisations for pneumonia during winter months, 11.4 percent for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 5.4 percent for congestive heart failure, and 7.2 percent for asthma.

Although RSV disease was somewhat milder when compared to influenza A, RSV infection was more common. The total number of doctor visits and hospitalisations for the two viruses was similar over the four-year period of the study.

Currently, there are only two approved treatments for RSV. One is ribavirin, an antiviral agent administered as an aerosol. Palivuzumab is a prophylactic immune reagent given by injection. Both are licensed only for treatment of children.; Source: University of Rochester Medical Center