Runny nose, dry cough, sore throat and fever: the combination of these symptoms would immediately register anyone who witnessed the pandemic as an unfortunate resurgence of COVID-19, a bad cold or the flu.
But there is another little-known virus that shows exactly the same symptoms: Human Metapneumovirus, abbreviated HMPV or just MPV.
Cases of HMPV skyrocketed in the United States this spring, and hospital intensive care units filled with young children and elderly patients infected with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) respiratory virus surveillance systems were ill.
In mid-March, when hospitals were recording the peak of recovery, nearly 11 percent of patients tested were positive for HMPV — a number about 36 percent above the average pre-pandemic seasonal peak of 7 percent.
According to John V. Williams, professor of pediatrics, microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, the recent accumulation of HMPV evidence in the United States “similar to the above-average cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza in the fall of 2022 and winter of 2023 ‘ that followed the pandemic, he wrote in The Conversation.
After two years of social distancing and mask-wearing, a drop in population immunity has been linked to a rise in cases of viruses, such as the flu and the common cold.
In the UK, HMPV cases appeared to have peaked over the winter, with a reported positivity rate of 5.4 per cent among adult hospitalized patients.
In the week ending May 21, 0.8 per cent of patients were positive for HMPV, according to the UK health agency. For children under five, the rate was 1.4 percent in May, below the winter’s peak of 12.2 percent.
Is HMPV a new virus?
No, the human metapneumovirus is not a new virus. It was discovered in 2001 by a Dutch team of researchers after a year of searching for the unknown causes of acute respiratory infections – the leading cause of death in children under five worldwide.
The team examined 28 samples from children in the Netherlands who had been very ill but had not tested positive for known pathogens.
Examining the samples, the researchers found a virus structurally similar to the Paramyxoviridae family – a group of viruses that cause diseases such as measles, mumps and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – and whose genes were related to the avian metapneumovirus, a Virus that infects birds.
The researchers gave the HMPV the same name as its bird-like relative, as they believed the virus probably jumped from birds to humans and later evolved.
The virus is believed to have been circulating among humans completely undetected since at least the 1950s.
How bad is HMPV?
Many people may have contracted HMPV at some point, but are not aware that they carry it.
Most people who contract the virus do not develop any serious symptoms and recover within seven to 10 days. In addition, the virus can only be detected by complex molecular tests in hospitals or emergency rooms.
Typically, it is young children and the elderly who become most ill after contracting HMPV because they are the most susceptible to the virus. Your symptoms are treated directly by doctors in hospitals because there is no vaccine or antiviral drug for HMPV.
In severe cases, the virus can be deadly. Other similar viruses are more dangerous than HMPV, although the rate of infection and disease from the virus appears to be much lower than RSV.