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Learn About Human Metapneumovirus (hMPV)

Human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is a respiratory virus that causes an upper respiratory infection (a cold). It usually occurs in the winter and early spring, along with the "flu" season. The virus was unknown until 2001 when it was first discovered, and since that time, researchers have been trying to determine the virus's impact on the population.

Key Facts

  • hMPV causes upper respiratory infections in people of all ages but is most common in children, particularly under the age of 5.
  • Symptoms include runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, headache, and fever. A very small number of individuals may have some shortness of breath.
  • In most cases, the symptoms go away on their own after a few days.
  • A very small number of people are at risk for a more severe pneumonia following this infection, especially those who are over the age of 75 or have compromised immune systems.

What Is hMPV?

hPMV is a virus that spreads through contact with an infected individual. It enters through your mouth, eyes or nose (mucus membranes). It is recognized as a leading cause of acute respiratory disease (cold) in children since its discovery in 2001.Most children have been infected with hMPV by age 5, and smaller number of children (5 percent to 16 percent) will develop a lower respiratory tract infection such as pneumonia. Infants, specifically 0-5 months, seem particularly susceptible.

This virus affects adults of all ages, and is a major cause of respiratory illness in the elderly (older than 65 years of age), causing disease in up to 10 percent of people tested.

How Does hMPV Affects Your Body?

Upon entering the body, hMPV infects the cells in your respiratory tract. The infection of these cells by the hPMV leads to the release of local chemicals and hormones that can cause the body's immune response. This response causes the classic symptoms of a "cold," including local pain, low-grade fever, cough, runny nose, headache and sore throat. In some individuals, the disease can spread to the main airways, or bronchi, leading to increased cough and wheezing. In children under the age of 1 year, lower body temperature and weight loss are also seen.

How Serious Is hMPV?

In general, hPMV is not serious.  As with other causes of colds, most people have mild symptoms that go away on their own without treatment, usually within a few days. Patients with asthma may develop a subsequent asthma flare-up after infection. The elderly and people with weakened immune systems are at an increased risk for developing pneumonia, which can be severe. However, hMPV infection is usually to be less serious than other respiratory infections, including adenovirus and influenza.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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