Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection in Adults

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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), an enveloped RNA virus in the Paramyxovirus family, is the most important cause of lower respiratory tract infection in infants and young children, accounting for ∼100,000 pediatric hospitalizations and 250 deaths annually in the United States. Despite primarily being recognized as a pediatric pathogen, RSV reinfection causes substantial disease in all adult populations, including healthy young persons, old and frail individuals, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and immunocompromised patients. Most illnesses are mild in adults, but significant morbidity and mortality can develop. In contrast to infants, diagnosis of RSV infections is difficult due to low virus shedding, and optimal diagnosis requires molecular tests. Unfortunately, antiviral therapy is of limited benefit. Ribavirin and palivizumab are the only approved pharmacological agents for RSV treatment and prophylaxis, respectively, and are primarily used in infants; data regarding their usefulness in adults are limited. Currently, specific antiviral therapy is generally reserved for severely immunocompromised patients or severe respiratory failure. The greatest promise for reducing the impact of RSV in adults may be through immunization. However, an effective vaccine for RSV is not currently available.

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