With the season for spreading contagious common illnesses now in full swing, you want your employees and their families to stay healthy and safe. That’s why it’s important to be aware of new vaccines and treatments that can help protect your plan members from serious illness resulting from an easily transmitted virus like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
With the first two vaccines for RSV approved in 2023 for individuals at greater risk, a level of extra protection is now available. To help you understand the potential impacts of RSV and ways to minimize them at work, we’re sharing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 and from our CarelonRx clinical reports published quarterly throughout the year.
What is RSV?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common infection that causes cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, fever, and coughing. Most people experience mild symptoms which resolve in a few weeks without any treatment. For people at higher risk such as older adults with chronic medical conditions and infants, severe RSV infection can cause pneumonia requiring hospitalization and, for some, lead to death.
Seasonal pattern and severity
RSV infections generally follow a seasonal pattern with circulation starting in the fall and peaking in the winter. On average, in the United States, annual RSV infections require hospitalization for approximately 69,000 people younger than 5 years of age, and 110,000 older adults at higher risk of severe disease. Importantly, about 8,000 of hospitalized older adults die from RSV each year.2
According to CDC, RSV is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age. Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.
How RSV is spread
RSV typically spreads through exposure to virus droplets via direct contact, shared spaces and surface contacts. Examples of typical transmission include being near an infected person who coughs or sneezes, or touching a hard surface with the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touching your face. RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as conference tables and vending machines.
During fall and winter, close contact in enclosed spaces tends to increase, and it’s not uncommon for people who gather and work together, to unwittingly share the virus. People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days and may become contagious a day or two before they start showing signs of illness.
Who should get the new RSV vaccines?
This year, CDC has recommended new immunizations for the RSV season, to protect those most at risk of getting very sick: infants, toddlers, and adults 60 years and older.2
1. Adults 60 years and older. Two RSV vaccines, Arexvy and Abrysvo, have been licensed by FDA and recommended by CDC for adults ages 60 and older who can receive one dose of either vaccine. Adults can talk to their healthcare provider about whether RSV vaccination is right for them based on their health status and risk factors.
2. Infants. There are two choices to help protect babies from getting very sick with RSV. One is the Abrysvo RSV vaccine given to the mother during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy, which provides protection for the infant once born. Another is a preventive antibody, nirsevimab (Beyfortus), given by injection to infants after birth.
3. Toddlers. Some children aged 8 months to 19 months who are at greater risk for severe RSV disease are also recommended to receive nirsevimab, the RSV antibody.
Encourage a healthy workplace
The sooner vaccination takes place this season, the more cases of serious RSV that could be prevented. To limit virus sharing by infected people at work, remind plan members that they may be able to receive seasonal vaccines like this one at their doctors’ offices or at participating vaccine network pharmacies, in accordance with your plan. Flu, COVID-19, and RSV vaccines may be given at the same visit.3
You can also help encourage a healthy workplace by asking employees to take basic preventive measures that reduce the transmission of seasonal illnesses, like staying home when sick and washing hands frequently. Associates should be mindful of close contact in small spaces like copy rooms and coffee areas, and facilities can benefit from regular disinfecting of shared hard surfaces like restroom doorknobs and entry keypads.
For more information
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1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Respiratory syncytial virus infection (accessed 11/20/23): www.cdc.com.
2 CarelonRx: Q2 2023 CarelonRx Drug and Biologic Pipeline Update: www.carelonrx.com.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: RSV prevention (accessed 11/20/23): www.cdc.gov.