Cases of human metapneumovirus surge; What are the signs, symptoms of HMPV?

As COVID-19, RSV and even the flu are now not of main concern for most people, another respiratory illness is starting to surge — human metapneumovirus.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said HMPV filled intensive care units with children and seniors this spring. In March, 11% of specimens tested positive for the virus.

While 11% doesn’t sound that large, that is more than a third higher than average and higher than the 7% set before the pandemic.

What is HMPV?

HMPV is related to RSV and it makes people feel just as sick as the flu.

CNN reported that HMPV is the second most common illness in children, behind RSV.

Just like RSV and the flu, HMPV can cause people to have to be admitted to intensive care units and can cause deadly cases of pneumonia in older people.

It was first discovered in 2001 by Dutch virus hunters who looked at 28 samples collected from children who had unexplained respiratory infections in the Netherlands. The children had not tested positive for any known illnesses but all had been so sick that they needed to be put on ventilators.

The virus hunters looked at the samples and compared them to cells from monkeys, chickens and dogs.

The samples looked similar to paramyxoviridae, or the family of viruses that cause measles, mumps and RSV. They also looked like avian metapneumovirus, so the virus hunters called it human metapneumovirus, believing that it went from birds to people and evolved, CNN reported.

A study published in 2020 in Lancet Global Health found that there were more than 14 million cases of HMPV infections in kids younger than 5 years old. Of those cases, more than 600,000 children were hospitalized and more than 16,000 died, CNN reported.


The Washington Post reported that while some people will get very ill, for most with human metapneumovirus, it will feel like a cold.

It normally is seen in the winter and spring and has the following symptoms:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever

The illness lasts from three to seven days, according to the Post.

It can move to the lower respiratory tract and cause bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

It is spread through the air from coughing and sneezing or by touch, either directly by someone who has the virus or through touching contaminated items and then touching the eyes, mouth or nose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

HPMV can be spread by asymptomatic people.


There is no vaccine and treatment is what is called “supportive care,” otherwise known as trying to make someone feel better while their body battles the virus.

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