What is HMPV? ‘Most important virus you’ve never heard of’ spikes 36%: CDC

What is HMPV? ‘Most important virus you’ve never heard of’ spikes 36%: CDC

Human Metapneumovirus A virus no one has ever heard of has spread across the United States, causing a 36% increase in cases in 2023, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, human metanupneumovirus, or HMPV, is a respiratory disease that causes common cold-like symptoms: cough, fever, congestion, runny nose, sore throat and shortness of breath.

Therefore, most people believe they have a cold or the flu, but in young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, HMPV can cause illness severe enough to send them to the hospital. 

It’s no surprise that most people have never heard of HMPV – the virus wasn’t even discovered until 2001. 

When scientists tested blood samples in the 1950s, they found evidence that the virus had been circulating for at least 50 years, reports CNN. 

Still, I think many people, even in health care, are unfamiliar with this virus,” John V. Williams, professor of pediatrics, microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, told The Conversation.

HMPV is “the most important virus you’ve never heard of,” Williams said. 

HMPV cases typically increase in January, peak in March and April, then decline in May when the weather warms.

The 2023 surge in HMPV cases could be due to people wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and having low immunity after years of social distancing. 

HMPV Treatment 

Most people with HMPV infection get better after a few days of rest, drinking fluids, and taking over-the-counter decongestants and pain medicines. 

What is HMPV? 'Most important virus you've never heard of' spikes 36%: CDC
What is HMPV? ‘Most important virus you’ve never heard of’ spikes 36%: CDC

Most children will have had HMPV by the time they reach the age of 5.

But for some young children, the disease can take a troubling turn. 

HMPV in infants 

In a 2015 study from the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, babies and children under the age of 2 were most likely to be hospitalized with HMPV.

And 18% of hospitalized children were treated in the intensive care unit, while 6% required mechanical ventilation due to difficulty breathing. 

A study published in The Lancet estimated that in 2018, HMPV caused 643,000 hospitalizations and 16,100 deaths among children under the age of 5 worldwide.

There is currently no cure or vaccine for the disease, but that may soon change.

Moderna, the maker of the COVID-19 vaccine, has started early clinical trials of a vaccine against HMPV.

Until such a vaccine is developed, doctors recommend taking the usual precautions against HMPV and other respiratory viruses: washing your hands regularly, avoiding people who are sick, and staying home if you feel sick. 

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