Despite Known Health Threats of RSV, Study Finds the Public Knows Little

Article

Less than half of respondents would recommend a vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus to a pregnant friend or family member.

Findings from a new survey found that Americans are ill informed about respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), despite the serious nature of the disease.

Credit: photoopus - stock.adobe.com

Credit: photoopus - stock.adobe.com

According to the survey, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), American adults are unfamiliar with the most common symptoms of RSV and are more hesitant to recommend a vaccine to pregnant individuals than to older adults. These findings come as a vaccine against RSV for pregnant individuals is being developed and the CDC is deciding whether to approve a vaccine for adults aged 60 and older.

Globally, RSV is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants. Although it typically has mild symptoms, RSV is highly contagious and can result in serious illness, hospitalization, and death, particularly among infants and the elderly. It typically causes cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever, wheezing, and decreased appetite. Notably, RSV was 1 of 3 illnesses, in addition to influenza and COVID-19, that contributed to last winter’s “tripledemic.”

The survey included more than 1600 adults and found that less than half (49%) were likely to recommend the vaccine against RSV to a pregnant friend or family member, if it is FDA-approved. However, most Americans (63%) would recommend a vaccine to a friend or family member aged 65 years or older.

Scientists have finally developed vaccines against RSV after decades of research. In May, the FDA approved 2 RSV vaccines for older adults, and is likely to approve a maternal RSV vaccine for pregnant individuals to pass antibodies onto infants this summer. When the survey was conducted, the FDA had already approved the vaccine for older adults, although the shots were not yet available.

“Those who recall the stress that the tripledemic placed on the nation’s hospitals last fall will understand why older individuals and those who are pregnant should discuss the advisability of RSV vaccination with their health care providers,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, PhD, director of the APPC at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the study, in a press release.

One-quarter of respondents (27%) expressed worry about contracting or having a family member contract RSV, compared with approximately one-third (33%) who expressed concern in a January 2023 survey. The investigators said this decrease in concern is not surprising given that RSV circulates during the fall and winter and there was heightened media attention during the 2022-2023 flu season.

Despite this concern, just 22% of respondents said they know children who have had RSV. Of those, just over half said they have known just 1 child or 2 who have had it. When asked how many children contract RSV before age 2, only 2% of respondents correctly answered, “virtually all.”

However, among those who said they know children who have had RSV, its potential severity is well understood. Among those respondents, 54% said the illness was somewhat or very serious.

“Most children with cold-like symptoms are not tested for RSV, but when a child becomes severely ill, it’s more likely that child will undergo diagnostic testing,” Jamieson said in the press release.

Far fewer respondents said they know older adults who have had RSV. Just 6% of those surveyed said they know someone aged 65 years or older who has had RSV. Of those, 71% said they know 1 or 2 people who have had it and 72% said the infection was somewhat or very serious. According to CDC data, there are 60,000 to 160,000 hospitalizations every year from RSV among adults aged 65 or older, and between 6000 and 10,000 deaths.

REFERENCE

RSV Is a Serious Health Threat, but the Public Knows Little About It. News release. Annenberg Public Policy Center. June 21, 2023. Accessed June 22, 2023. https://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/rsv-is-a-serious-health-threat-but-the-public-knows-little-about-it/

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