Human metapneumovirus, also known as HMPV, is a type of common respiratory virus. It belongs to a family of viruses called pneumoviridae – the same group the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) belongs to.
If you have HMPV, you might have mild cold-like symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, runny nose, or sore throat for a few days. In rare cases, you might develop more serious symptoms, especially if you have a weakened immune system or other risk factors. Anyone can get it, but it's more common in those who are very young or older.
Here’s a look at how common HMPV is, who's at risk, common symptoms, when to see your doctor, your treatment options, and more.
What Is Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV)?
Dutch scientists discovered it over 20 years ago. But research now shows it's been the source of respiratory infections around the world for over 50 years.
Like any virus, HMPV is contagious, which means you can get it if you come in contact with someone who's been infected. It’s also seasonal. This means that, in the U.S., you’re more likely to get HMPV during winter or early spring months – around the same time as flu season.
How Common Is Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV)?
It's very common. In fact, research shows that most people are likely to have an infection at least once before the age 5. You can be infected multiple times in your life. In children, HMPV makes up about 1 in 10 of all respiratory infections. Anyone can get HMPV, but some groups are more at risk.
Who's at Risk for Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV)?
While anyone can get it, those those at higher risk are:
- Children under 5
- Older than 65
- People with asthma who use steroids
- Those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Those with weakened immune systems due to conditions like cancer or HIV, or who've had an organ transplant
How Does Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV) Spread?
The virus largely spreads when you come in close contact with an infected person. You might become exposed to the virus if you:
- Touch surfaces that contain the virus
- Touch your mouth, nose, or eyes after you touch infected surfaces
- Come in contact with droplets from an infected person such as sneezing, spitting, or coughing
- Have close contact such as handshakes and touching
Once the virus enters your body, the incubation period – the time between exposure to the first signs of symptoms – is 3 to 6 days.
What Are the Symptoms of Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV)?
Most HMPV symptoms are mild. They can include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
These usually go away in 2 to 5 days. But they can worsen and cause serious health issues in some cases. If your symptoms last more than 2 weeks or become severe, let your doctor know.
Can Human Metapneumovirus Be Serious?
Sometimes. A small number of people can develop more serious HMPV symptoms such as:
- Asthma flare-ups
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Severe bronchiolitis (most common in children, this chest infection can be fatal in rare cases)
Babies under 1 may have difficulty feeding properly. Studies show that HMPV infections make up about 5% to 10% of hospitalizations among children. Data shows up to 16% of them may develop serious complications like pneumonia.
If you notice serious symptoms, tell your doctor or seek medical care immediately. You might need to be hospitalized so that doctors can closely monitor your symptoms.
How Is Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV) Diagnosed?
Typically, your doctor will do a detailed physical exam and ask you about your personal and family medical histories.
They may take swabs from your nose, mouth, or throat. They might order a lab test called rapid antigen test or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to check for the virus.
If you, or your child, have severe symptoms, your doctor may do a bronchoscopy. In that procedure, they insert a thin tube with a camera on its tip through your throat. They use that to collect a fluid sample to check for the virus.
How Do You Treat Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV)?
There’s no specific treatment or cure. Since most symptoms are mild and go away on their own, you’ll just need supportive care to manage your symptoms while you get well.
To help ease your symptoms in the meantime, you can:
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) to ease symptoms like fever, pain, and coughing
- Use decongestants to help with stuffiness or runny nose
- Use an inhaler to help with breathing problems like wheezing or coughing
- Use corticosteroid nasal spray to ease pressure inside your nose
Your doctor may also prescribe steroids like prednisone to help with inflammation.
Can Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV) Be Prevented?
There's no vaccine to prevent HMPV. But since it spreads through close contact, there are some ways to help protect yourself and avoid infection.
You can lower your risk by:
- Staying away from people who are sick
- Washing your hands with soap and water for least 20 seconds before touching your mouth, eyes, or nose
- Keeping current on vaccinations and seeing your doctor for regular checkups
- Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Try to cough into your elbow away from others.
- Using alcohol wipes or sanitizers after you sneeze or cough onto your hands
- Not touching high-contact surfaces like hand railings or door knobs