man covering his mouth while coughing

Researchers need to study respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) more in the older adult population because the prevalence of the virus isn’t clear, which could affect treatment, according to a new report.

The report, published Jan. 11 in Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases, called for more research to evaluate the burden of RSV in older adults, explore the prevalence, deal with challenges in testing, and overcome obstacles to get more people vaccinated.

Among those most at risk are older adults who are over 75, have chronic conditions or frailty, are immunocompromised, or those who live in long-term care communities. 

The team looked at the incidence rates of RSV. There were a lot of inconsistencies in yearly data because there was a lack of testing and other diagnostic tools. It’s hard to evaluate the burden on older adults because of untimely testing. When older adults are tested later, the presence of the virus may not be clear. There’s also a lack of awareness. This can lead to inaccurate estimates of the illness, so it’s hard to get a grasp on the true prevalence of the virus. When saliva and sputum were added when swabbing, RSV prevalence rose from 1.8% to 4.5%. The team also evaluated the burden of RSV in older adults in terms of hospitalizations, costs and deaths.

According to recent data from a meta-analysis, hospitalizations in people over age 65 could be as high as 787,000 in industrialized countries. The annual mortality rate in those with RSV could be as high as 47,000, that data showed.

After the RSV vaccines were launched last year in older adults, it was a big move for RSV prevention. The shots have efficacy levels of up to 94.1%. Even though the vaccines were approved, the medical community needs more research on rare side effects and how well the efficacy is in people who receive the shot.

“Addressing the real-world effectiveness of these vaccines, understanding potential rare side effects, and ensuring broad inclusivity in future trials are crucial steps to maximize their potential benefits,” the authors wrote.

The authors called for more initiatives to monitor adverse effects to successfully manage RSV in older adults.