RSV in adult ED patients: Do emergency providers consider RSV as an admission diagnosis?

Am J Emerg Med. 2017 Aug;35(8):1162-1165. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2017.06.022. Epub 2017 Jun 11.


Background: Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) has been recognized for over half a century as a cause of morbidity in infants and children. Over the past 20years, data has emerged linking RSV as a cause of illness in adults resulting in 177,000 annual hospitalizations and up to 14,000 deaths among older adults.

Objective: Characterize clinical variables in a cohort of adult RSV patients. We hypothesize that emergency physicians do not routinely consider RSV in the differential diagnosis (DDx) of influenza like illness.

Methods: Observational study of all adult inpatients, age≥19, with a positive RSV swab ordered within 48h of their hospital visit, including their emergency department (ED) visit, and who initially presented to a university affiliated urban 100,000 annual visit emergency department from 2007 to 2014. A data collection form was created, and a single trained clinical research assistant abstracted demographic, clinical variables. ED providers were given credit for RSV DDx if an RSV swab was ordered as part of the diagnostic ED workup.

Results: 295 consecutive inpatients (mean age=66.5years, range, 19-97, 53% male) were RSV positive during the 7-year study period. 207 cases (70%) were age≥60. 76 (26%) had fever, 86 (29%) had O2sat <92% and 145 (49%) had wheezing. 279 patients required admission, 30 needed ICU stay and overall mortality was 12 patients (4%). Age≥60 was associated with overall mortality (p=0.09). There were 106 (36%) immunocompromised patients (23% transplant, 40% cancer, 33% steroid use) in the cohort. A diagnosis of RSV was considered in the ED in 105 (36%) of patients. Being immunocompromised, having COPD/asthma, O2sat <92, or wheezing did not alert the ED provider to order an RSV test.

Conclusion: Adults can harbor RSV as this can lead to significant mobility and mortality, especially in individuals who are over the age of 60. RSV is not being considered in the DDx diagnosis, and this was especially surprising in the transplant/immunocompromised subgroups. Given antiviral treatment options, educational efforts should be undertaken to raise awareness of RSV in adults.

Keywords: Influenza like illness; RSV; Respiratory infections; Respiratory syncytial virus.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Influenza, Human / diagnosis*
  • Influenza, Human / drug therapy
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Human / isolation & purification*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Utilization Review / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


  • Antiviral Agents