RSV increases health risks among senior citizens – expert

MANILA – Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) increases health risks among senior citizens as they already have weakened immune systems, an infectious disease expert said on Friday.

RSV is a common and contagious virus that causes infection with mild symptoms, such as cough, colds, congestion, fever, headache, runny nose, sore throat, and tiredness.

“How is this spread? When a person has symptoms, coughing, sneezing, there is a possibility you can get it. Each person infected with RSV affects three other people on average,“ Philippine College of Physicians president and infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said during a media panel discussion at the Grand Hyatt Manila in Taguig City.

Individuals infected with RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days, but older adults may shed the virus for a longer time.

Solante noted that easing hygiene protocols observed during the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, such as wearing face masks, makes Filipinos more prone to RSV.

RSV season in the Philippines is from September to February, peaking between October and December, he said.

Noting that 60,000 to 100,000 cases of hospitalization among senior citizens are caused by RSV, Solante emphasized that this infection could exacerbate co-morbidities, leading to cardiovascular complications that may cause death.

“Patients with underlying co-morbidities are at a higher risk of hospitalization when they get RSV infection – up to two times higher for asthma patients, up to six times higher for patients with heart disease and diabetes and up to 13 times higher for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients,” he said.

Pulmonary expert Dr. Lenora Fernandez, meanwhile, explained that there is no targeted treatment for RSV in adults, particularly in senior citizens.

She said supportive care, vaccination, regular hand washing, wearing masks when necessary, staying hydrated and rested, not smoking and vaping, eating a nutritious diet, and regular exercise, could prevent the elderly from getting RSV.

Geriatrics expert Dr. Lourdes Carolina Dumlao likewise said that senior citizens could still have “healthy aging” despite the threat of such infectious diseases as RSV.

“The World Health Organization does not define healthy aging as the absence of disease, but being able to control disease and continue to be functional,” she said.

“The goal of doctors is not longevity, making you live as long as possible, but make you as functional and as independent for as long as possible, so we say vaccination for vaccine-preventable diseases could help.”

Currently, vaccines are available for some population groups, such as senior citizens, at risk of severe RSV infection. (PNA)