New Virus Commonly Strikes Children
Human Metapneumovirus May Be Major Cause of Respiratory Illnesses
Jan. 28, 2004 -- For many kids with respiratory infections,
doctors are unable to pinpoint a specific cause. But a new study shows that a
recently discovered virus may be responsible for up to one in five of these
Researchers suggest that the virus, called the human
metapneumovirus, appears to be one of the leading causes of respiratory
infection in the first years of life and causes symptoms similar to those
associated with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), such as difficulty
breathing and wheezing.
Researchers say RSV and influenza are thought to be the most
common causes of respiratory infections among infants and children, but there
are a substantial number of cases in which no virus can be identified.
In 2001, researchers in the Netherlands identified a new virus
found in adults and children with respiratory infections, but until now the
rate of infection caused by human metapneumovirus in children was not
Human Metapneumovirus Common in Children
In the study, published in the Jan. 29 issue of The New
England Journal of Medicine, researchers tested for human metapneumovirus
in otherwise healthy infants and children who were treated for respiratory
Of the 248 nasal samples tested, researchers found the human
metapneumovirus in 49 of the samples.
Researchers say that means 20% of lower respiratory tract
illnesses -- such as bronchitis or pneumonia -- were caused by the human
metapneumovirus. In addition, they estimate that 12% of all lower respiratory
tract illnesses may be due to this virus.
The study also showed that much like other viruses that cause
respiratory illness, infections with the human metapneumorvirus are most common
during the winter.
Symptoms of the New Virus
The most common symptoms of human metapneumovirus infection in
children are similar to other respiratory infections -- cough, fever,
irritability, and runny nose.
There is no known treatment for human metapneumovirus.
Fortunately, infection is rarely deadly, although 1 in 50 kids infected with
the virus required hospitalization in a previous study.
In an editorial that accompanies the study, Kenneth McIntosh,
MD, of Harvard Medical School, and colleagues say the findings "indicate
that the human metapneumovirus is, with a few differences, a kid brother or
sister to the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that, particularly in young
children, accounts for a very substantial proportion of cases previously
relegated to the 'undiagnosed' category."
They say further research is now needed to better understand
exactly what role the newly discovered virus plays in diseases found in adults
and to develop ways to prevent the infection.