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As the calendar turns to fall and temperatures start to drop, the rate of illnesses tends to rise each year. With RSV joining the fold along with the flu and COVID-19 viruses, we asked Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, what people with cancer need to know about the RSV virus and how they can protect themselves.


What is RSV?

RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. We break down respiratory illnesses into upper and lower tract viruses. RSV is a lower respiratory tract infection. It can cause a lot of damage to your airways. Immunosuppressed patients can get extremely ill and even die from this, especially those with leukemia, hematologic malignancy and bone marrow transplants. 

Is there a vaccine for RSV?

There are two vaccines available for RSV. The Centers for Disease Control believes both are equally effective, giving you about 85% protection against getting severely ill. Since it’s a relatively new vaccine, the guidelines aren’t clear as to whether you need to get it annually or every two years.

Should I also get a flu shot?

You can get the RSV vaccine and the flu shot at the same time. Whether it’s the flu shot, COVID-19 vaccine or pneumococcal vaccine, there’s no clear guidance on whether you should get them at the same time or space them out. There are pros and cons to both that you should discuss with your doctor.

What are the side effects of the RSV vaccine?

The vaccine is quite safe. Some people will have some pain in their arm as the vaccine revs up their immune system. You may also experience a slight fever or muscle ache. There are some rare neurological side effects that are true for any vaccine, but the chances of experiencing those are minute.

I have or have had cancer. Should I get an RSV vaccine?

People with cancer in general are at a higher risk of having a severe illness, especially at the age of 60 or older. The vaccine can significantly decrease the risk of being hospitalized with a severe illness. It’s worth discussing the benefits and the risks of getting an RSV vaccine, but in most cases the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.