human metapneumovirus
The typical symptoms of human metapneumovirus (hMPV) are not usually severe; however, the virus can cause more serious illnesses in some people.

The typical symptoms are not usually severe, but in some cases, human metapneumovirus (hMPV) can cause more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, especially in people with low immunity.

  • hMPV is a virus that can infect the lungs and usually results in a cold; however, in rare cases, it can lead to more serious respiratory infections.
  • Although it can affect anyone, it is one of the leading causes of colds in children.
  • hMPV is not a dangerous virus in general with most people experiencing mild symptoms.
  • Symptoms usually improve on their own after a few days without treatment. People who have other respiratory conditions, such as asthma, may experience flare-ups following the infection.
  • When hMPV infection causes severe pneumonia or bronchitis, patients struggle to breathe on their own and must be admitted to the intensive care unit for close monitoring.
  • Most hospitals, thankfully, can treat this shortness of breath, but immunocompromised patients and those with underlying medical conditions can be severely affected by hMPV.
  • The greatest danger arises when a patient suffering from pneumonia becomes infected with a second pathogen (either viral or bacterial). This usually aggravates symptoms and, due to the patient’s weakened immune systems, can result in death.

Mild symptoms of hMPV

Severe symptoms of hMPV

hMPV is detected all year, with peak activity typically occurring in late winter to early spring. Most people are infected by the age of five years but reinfection is possible.

hMPV has been found in one to five percent of upper respiratory infections and 12 percent of lower respiratory tract infections in children. It is a major cause of breathing issues in adults older than 65 years.

How do you get human metapneumovirus infection?

The human metapneumovirus (hMPV) causes hMPV infection.

When an infected person sneezes, coughs or blows their nose, the virus spreads. This may spray droplets containing the virus onto the hands and nearby surfaces.

Others become infected because of:

  • Inhaling virus particles
  • Touching their eyes, nose, or mouth after getting the virus on their hands

Risk factors

Infection with hMPV is a common cause of childhood colds. It can, however, happen at any age. Close contact with someone infected with the virus poses the greatest risk of infection. 

Severe hMPV infections are more common in people older than 65 years and in those with:

Because hMPV symptoms are similar to those of other human respiratory viruses, hMPV must be diagnosed through laboratory testing.

  • The most common method is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing of respiratory specimens, which is available in clinical laboratories.
  • Immunofluorescence, culture, and serology are additional hMPV testing methods.

What are the treatment options for patients with human metapneumovirus?

Despite significant progress since its discovery, there are currently no effective drugs or vaccines available to treat or prevent human metapneumovirus (hMPV) infections. For the most part, the infection resolves on its own.

Treatment is determined by the severity of the hMPV infection and may include:

  • Home care treatment:
    • Rest
    • Fluids by mouth
    • A cool-mist vaporizer to ease coughing
    • Saltwater (saline) nose drops to loosen mucus in the nose
    • Nonaspirin fever medicines, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Medical care for severe infections:
    • Medicines to open airways
    • Oxygen
    • Steroids

Prevention

  • Washing hands often
  • Staying away from people with colds
  • Not touching the eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Not sharing items with people who have colds
  • Avoiding cigarette smoke

hMPV infections are not endemic to any particular region but occur regularly around the world. The peak of hMPV infection usually occurs at the end of winter and early spring.

The precise global impact of hMPV is difficult to predict because not every case is reported, but global studies have shown that almost every child younger than five years has encountered hMPV at some point in their life.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/14/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

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American Lung Association. Human Metapneumovirus (hMPV). https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/human-metapneumovirus-hmpv

Shafagati N, Williams J. Human metapneumovirus - what we know now. F1000Res. 2018;7:135. Published 2018 Feb 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5795268/

Williams JV, Harris PA, Tollefson SJ, et al. Human metapneumovirus and lower respiratory tract disease in otherwise healthy infants and children. N Engl J Med. 2004 Jan 29;350(5):443-50. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa025472

Hahn A, Wang W, Jaggi P, et al. Human metapneumovirus infections are associated with severe morbidity in hospitalized children of all ages. Epidemiology and Infection. 2013;141(10):2213-2223. doi:10.1017/S0950268812002920