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Who is Most at Risk of Complications from Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

Updated September 24, 2023

In infants and young children, those most at risk for developing complications from Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infection include infants born prematurely, infants younger than six months of age, children with neuromuscular disorders that impact their ability to clear their mucous membranes or swallow properly, and children under the age of two years who have underlying immune disorders, chronic lung disease, or congenital heart problems. 

Environmental factors can also cause infants to develop complications from RSV infection. These include a lack of breastfeeding, exposure to tobacco smoke, and poor socioeconomic status. Complications from RSV infection generally occur in countries with limited public health resources and access to supportive treatments and basic care. 

Complications of RSV infection in children include inflammation of the small airways within the lungs (bronchiolitis) and lung infection (pneumonia). The CDC estimates that between one and two children out of 100 will require hospitalization for RSV infection, but that most recover fully with supportive care that may include oxygen, mechanical ventilation, and intravenous (IV) fluids. 

Adults, especially older adults with underlying health conditions, or who are frail, are at an increased risk of developing complications from RSV infection. This includes adults with chronic lung or heart disease, and those with immune disorders. Complications from RSV infection in this population include pneumonia, and the worsening of chronic illnesses such as asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure. In the U.S., it is estimated that between 60,000 and 120,000 RSV infections among older adults require hospitalization, with between 6,000 and 10,000 contributing to death. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.


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