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Health alert for seniors: What to know about RSV

Feb 16, 2024 | Lifestyles

You may remember the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s never been more true than it is right now about good health and older adults, especially when it comes to protecting yourself during what is commonly known as respiratory disease season (fall through early spring).

Last year saw the devastating effects of an increase in COVID, flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and pneumonia on the wellbeing of older Americans. Fortunately, most people had access to vaccines for all but RSV last year. And in good news for this year, for the first time ever, there is a vaccine approved by FDA for preventing RSV in older adults.

The Problem

RSV is a serious respiratory virus whose full toll on seniors is just now being recognized. Each year, RSV results in up to 160,000 hospitalizations among people aged 65 and over and leads to as many as 10,000 deaths in older people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It can also prove serious for anyone with chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, heart or other lung problems, certain autoimmune conditions and those receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatments. It is easily spread from contact with a contaminated surface as well as through the air (when someone infected sneezes or coughs), so anyone at any age can get it.

A Solution

RSV vaccines are now approved and available throughout the U.S. and the cost is covered fully for Medicare beneficiaries. These vaccines can truly protect your health across your lifespan as they are now available for adults aged 60 years or older, as well as for infants through maternal immunization.

What Else You Should Know

It is always a good idea to review your health plan. When contacting Medicare, make certain that you are contacting the actual government agency itself. Only government agencies can use the .gov ending and the best number to use to reach trained Medicare experts is 1-800-633-4227. It’s easy to remember — it’s 1-800-Medicare.

The National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP) created a resource outlining the five things to know about RSV to help get the word out about this important opportunity to protect the health of older adults. English and Spanish versions can be found at https://www.nanasp.org/vaccines.

It’s a good idea to talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider about whether you should get the RSV vaccine, and any other recommended vaccines.

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