According to the Florida Department of Health, Florida’s Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) season is longer than the rest of the nation. Running from September to April in Southwest Florida compared to November to March nationally. Adding to the concern, RSV season typically coincides with an increase in cases of flu and COVID.
RSV cases in Florida were up in November and December of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. The average positivity rate in November 2022 was about 8%, surging to nearly 19% in November 2023. Furthermore, in the first three weeks of December the average positivity rate doubled from approximately 6% in 2022 to 12% in 2023.
The rise in RSV cases is alarming, because the U.S. population older than age 60 is larger now than ever before, and a growing number of individuals are immunocompromised. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about 14,000 adults aged 65 and older die each year from the disease.
RSV is a respiratory virus that infects the nose, throat, lungs and breathing passages. Symptoms are similar to the common cold, with low-grade fever, sore throat and congestion or a runny nose, sneezing, fever, decreased appetite and wheezing. In very young infants, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity and breathing difficulties. Those infected with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected.
While RSV symptoms are generally mild and resolve within a few days for most individuals, it can lead to more severe lower respiratory tract diseases, including pneumonia and bronchiolitis. Infants 12 months and younger, older adults, people with heart and lung disease and those with a weakened immune system (such as people undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or targeted therapy for cancer, organ transplant patients, and individuals who have an autoimmune disorder) are at a higher risk. Infants who were born prematurely are especially vulnerable to the infection.
Similar to COVID-19, RSV spreads through contact with respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, or kissing) from an infected person or touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails. Children are often exposed at school and childcare.
However, the risk of severe illness from RSV can be prevented with vaccinations.
Nirsevimab, a monoclonal antibody also known as Beyfortus, was approved in July by the Food and Drug Administration to protect infants and some young children. In clinical trials, one dose administered as an intramuscular injection reduced the risk of severe RSV by 80% over a five-month period, roughly the length of an RSV season.
American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one dose of nirsevimab for infants younger than 8 months and for infants between 8 and 19 months who are at increased risk from RSV. While many children get RSV without serious illness, vaccine-preventable diseases can be especially dangerous for young children.
For adults over age 60 who have asthma or other respiratory conditions that put them at increased risk of RSV related hospitalization, there are two vaccine options available. Additionally, the FDA has approved Abrysvo, a vaccine expectant mothers can get between weeks 32 and 36 of pregnancy that will give their baby protection against severe RSV for its first six months. The vaccine takes advantage of the natural process that occurs in the final trimester when the mother’s antibodies are shared with their baby through the placenta.
Pregnant women and new parents should talk with a healthcare professional about how best to protect their infants against serious RSV illness this season, either with a vaccine given during pregnancy, or a preventive antibody given to the baby after birth.
About the Author
Dr. Salvatore Anzalone is Vice President of Business Development and a vaccination specialist with Healthcare Network. For information, visit HealthcareSWFL.org, or call 239-658-3000.