Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is a virus that belongs to the same family as other respiratory viruses, including RSV. First identified in 2001, HMPV has since been recognized as a significant cause of respiratory tract infections, particularly in young children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
How Do You Get HMPV?
Like other respiratory viruses, HMPV is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The virus can also spread by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus and then touching the face, especially the mouth, nose, or eyes. Close contact with an infected person increases the risk of transmission.
According to research by the CDC, HMPV is most active in late winter and early spring. This is similar to the influenza virus, which tends to worsen between December and February. Extra care should be taken during these months with regards to hygiene and situational awareness.
Common Symptoms of HMPV Infection
The symptoms of HMPV infection are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses and may include:
- Shortness of breath (mild)
- Sore throat
In more severe cases, HMPV can cause more serious symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness or inability to speak (temporary)
- Severe cough
- Diarrhea (especially in children and infants)
In general, symptoms of HMPV are mild and begin to appear within 3-6 days of exposure to the virus. Vulnerable populations, such as infants, elderly individuals, and those with underlying health conditions, are at a higher risk of experiencing more severe complications.
Duration of HMPV Infection
The duration of an HMPV infection can vary from person to person. Generally, the illness tends to last for about 2-5 days, although a bad cough might linger. Individuals with compromised immune systems or other health conditions may experience a more prolonged course of illness.
Prevention and Treatment of HMPV
Unfortunately, there is not yet a preventive vaccine or antiviral medication to treat HMPV. Treatment consists largely of supportive care, including rest, over-the-counter-medications, fluids, etc.
You can take simple steps to prevent contracting HMPV and/or transmitting it:
- Wash your hands: frequent handwashing is the best possible way to avoid accidentally catching HMPV. Make sure to use soap and lather for at least 20 seconds each time.
- Avoid contact with infected individuals: if possible, a person with symptoms should quarantine until they are well. If you are acting as a caretaker, wear a mask and limit contact.
- Cover your cough: if you have symptoms, make sure to cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue or your elbow. If you must leave the house, consider wearing a mask to keep others safe.
- Clean surfaces: clean frequently touched surfaces (doorknobs, laptop keys, faucets, etc.) with a viral disinfectant or wipes.
HMPV in Children
Children are automatically more vulnerable to certain infections. They are still learning coughing etiquette and handwashing technique, and they are frequently in close quarters with classmates and friends. Practice washing hands at home and pack hand sanitizer in their backpacks to be used when soap and water are not available. If your child has symptoms, please keep them home until they resolve. Teach them the “vampire” coughing technique: have your child envision he or she is wearing a cape, which they draw up to hide their face while coughing into an elbow.
Again, HMPV is generally mild in children and will go away on its own within a week or so. Make sure they are resting and drinking plenty of water, especially if they have diarrhea or are vomiting. Treat fevers with over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or Tylenol. A spoonful of honey before bedtime has been shown to be an effective cough suppressant in children. Please remember, however, that honey is only safe for children above the age of one.
If your child is showing signs of more severe illness, or if they have another respiratory condition (such as asthma), visit your doctor as soon as possible.
HMPV Not Going Away?
If you have been experiencing symptoms of HMPV for a longer duration than normal, or your symptoms are especially severe, it may be time to visit your primary care physician. He or she can test for the presence of pneumonia or other illnesses that may have developed as a consequence of your HMPV infection.
In Destin, Florida, the Crane Center is proud to offer same day primary care appointments with our board-certified family physician, Dr. Tuel. There is no need to continue to suffer with symptoms of HMPV. Call or go online today to schedule your appointment and start feeling better.