an older man in a locker room with a towel reading beware rsv is a highly contagious virusan older man in a locker room with a towel reading beware rsv is a highly contagious virus

Understanding more about RSV and its risk to older adults

With more people talking about the risks of RSV, adults 60 and older are now learning that RSV may affect them, too. In fact, in some older adults, RSV can be very serious; in some cases, it can lead to hospitalization or death.

Don't let RSV catch you off guard—If you’re over the age of 60, including those with underlying medical conditions, you could be at risk for severe RSV.

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RSV is a highly contagious respiratory virus that can make you sick and possibly send you to the hospital, especially if you are 60 years and older. RSV can be spread by touching an infected surface or if an infected person coughs or sneezes and their droplets contact another person's eyes, nose, or mouth.

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Aging and RSV

As you age, you are at greater risk of experiencing more severe RSV because your body has a harder time fighting the infection. It’s important to help protect yourself against potentially serious respiratory diseases like RSV.

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RSV and other health conditions

If you are over 60 and living with certain conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, you could be at an increased risk of severe RSV.

RSV can also cause severe disease in people in long-term care facilities as well as those with a weakened immune system.

WARNING: RSV can BE serious

RSV can be a dangerous virus. Older adults may experience severe RSV-related complications such as difficulty breathing or hospitalization. In more serious cases, RSV may lead to death.

Chances of hospitalization in older adults

Like the flu, RSV can lead to serious consequences in older adults, including hospitalization and death.

In 1 study of adults 60 years and older in the United States who were hospitalized with either RSV (645 people) or flu (1,878 people) from 2011 to 2015, RSV caused:

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Longer hospital stays vs flu: 43% with RSV vs 31% with flu stayed 7+ days in the hospital
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Nearly 2x more pneumonia: 47% with RSV vs 26% with flu

caution iconRSV can cause respiratory disease that may make it difficult to breathe or possibly require hospitalization.

RSV can have a lasting impact for older adults

A study of adults 60 years and older who were hospitalized from RSV showed that RSV affected their ability to independently complete daily tasks.*

After hospitalization, 1 in 3 had more trouble independently completing daily tasks such as:

  • Getting dressed
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Feeding themselves

*This study took place in New York State between 2017 and 2020 and looked at adults aged 60 years and older who were hospitalized due to RSV. Six months after being discharged from the hospital, 32% of older adults scored worse on activities of daily living assessments.


RSV can start with mild symptoms that appear to be an ordinary cold, like congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or fever. But RSV may escalate to more severe symptoms.

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Wet cough
A cough that produces phlegm or mucus
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A high-pitched whistling sound made while breathing
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Gasping for breath
Labored or difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
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An infection that causes fluid in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe

caution iconTalk to your doctor to learn more about RSV. You can download a useful conversation starter here.

How to help MANAGE RSV

If you get sick with RSV, your doctor may first tell you to:

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Drink fluids and take over-the-counter medicines that help reduce fever or aches
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Call the doctor’s office or go to the hospital if your symptoms quickly become worse or you are having trouble breathing

Ways to help protect against RSV

Washing your hands, avoiding close contact with sick people, and cleaning surfaces can help stop the spread of RSV, but there is more you can do.

Talk to your doctor about an RSV vaccine.

learn more

beware: babies are also at risk for RSV

Find out how to help protect them.

learn more