Limited Public Knowledge about RSV, a Serious Health Threat

Limited Public Knowledge about RSV, a Serious Health Threat

July 06, 2023: A recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed that the general public has limited knowledge about Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). The study indicates that many Americans are unaware of RSV’s typical symptoms and are more hesitant in recommending RSV vaccination for pregnant individuals than older adults.

This lack of awareness comes at a critical time when the approval of an RSV vaccine for pregnant women is being considered, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is evaluating the approval of an RSV vaccine for adults aged 60 and above.

Globally, RSV is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants. While RSV symptoms are usually mild, the highly contagious virus can lead to severe illness, hospitalization, and even death among infants and the elderly.

By age 2, almost all children have been affected by RSV, which, combined with the flu and Covid-19, contributed to last winter’s overwhelming “tripledemic” that strained healthcare facilities. The CDC estimates 58,000 and 80,000 children under 5 are hospitalized annually due to RSV.

After years of research, scientists have developed vaccines against RSV. In May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two RSV vaccines for older adults and a maternal RSV vaccine for pregnant individuals to pass on antibodies to their fetuses, preventing RSV in infants up to six months old, which is expected to be approved this summer.

The study surveyed over 1,600 adults and found that less than half of Americans (49%) were likely to recommend the RSV vaccine to a pregnant friend or family member if it were approved by the FDA. In contrast, most Americans (63%) would recommend the vaccine to a friend or family member aged 65 or older. These findings highlight the importance of discussing RSV vaccination with healthcare providers, especially for older individuals and pregnant women, given the strain the tripledemic placed on hospitals last fall.

Although RSV is prevalent, familiarity with the virus is lower than expected. Only 22% of survey respondents reported knowing children who have had RSV, and among those who did, over half knew only one or two affected children. Furthermore, when asked about the number of children who contract RSV before age two, only 2% of respondents correctly stated that “virtually all” children are affected. It is crucial to note that RSV can cause severe illnesses, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, although it is often mistaken for a cold or the flu due to its mild symptoms.

The survey also highlighted the public’s limited understanding of RSV-related topics. Most respondents needed clarification about RSV symptoms, the persistence of the virus on surfaces, the possibility of reoccurrence, and the ability to spread the virus before showing symptoms. Additionally, the survey found that only a tiny percentage of the public was aware of FDA-approved vaccines for RSV in different populations, such as older adults and pregnant individuals. The lack of knowledge and uncertainty surrounding RSV underscores the need for more outstanding education and awareness about this serious health threat.

In conclusion, the Annenberg Public Policy Center study reveals a significant gap in public knowledge about RSV. Many Americans are unfamiliar with RSV symptoms and hesitate to recommend RSV vaccination, particularly for pregnant individuals. The study highlights the importance of addressing this lack of awareness, especially considering the potential severity of RSV among infants and older adults. Public education efforts are crucial to ensure a better understanding of RSV and promote the adoption of preventive measures, including vaccination, to mitigate the impact of this respiratory virus.


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