Virus you’ve probably never heard of set to spike this spring causing breathing problems

By Staff 6 Min Read

Human metapneumovirus (hMPV) leads a snotty nose, a fever and cough and even breathing problems such as wheezing. The illness is causing havoc in the US and is a seasonal condition

A virus you’ve most likely never heard of is poised to spike this spring – bringing with it a host of wheezing and breathing problems.

Health experts insist we should not assume the common contenders of flu, RSV or Covid are responsible for having a runny nose. A hugely common bug called human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is a cause of severe respiratory infections – but few people know it even exists. The virus, which brings a snotty nose, can spark a fever and cough and even breathing problems such as wheezing, is causing havoc in the US.

It has now risen to record levels and one in 10 people in the US had hMPV in mid-March. The disease has, however, not developed in the UK yet. The virus was first identified by scientists in the Netherlands in 2001 and is spread by close contact with a person who is infected or by touching contaminated areas or items. It causes a brief illness, for two-to-five days and disappears on its own.

It can be managed by over-the-counter medicines for example decongestants. But it can spark wheezing, breathing difficulties and asthma flare-up ibn more serious cases. If this happens sufferers are advised advised to see their GP, in case they need a temporary inhaler or a stronger medicine.

Those who contract it do it without knowing and are only tested for it in hospital. It can also lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia prompting a hospital stay. It is impossible, however, to tell it from other bugs. Covid and flu can also cause a fever, cough and sore throat and cause a mild illness for most, but others can result in a stay in hospitalised. HMPV is believed to be a seasonal illness and most cases are in the winter months. Experts, however, don’t know how many people are affected by it every year.

Almost everyone has been infected by the bug by the age of five but hMPV can also be spotted in older children and adults. Tests show cases in the UK are on the decline and 0.8% of patients tested positive for hMPV in the week to May 21. This has reduced from 5.4% at the end of December. Figures show rates were higher among under-5s

Around 11 per cent of tested cases for hMPV were recorded in the US in mid-March – 36% higher than the pre-Covid average of seven per cent. Dr John Williams, a paediatrician at the University of Pittsburgh who has spent his career researching vaccines and treatments for HMPV, said hMPV is “the most important virus you’ve never heard of” and was one of viruses which could put people in hospital or even kill them.

Babies and the elderly are most at risk of contracting the bug because their developing or deteriorating immune systems.

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