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Human metapneumovirus: A virus you probably haven’t heard of is surging in Australia

Key Points
  • Cases of human metapneumovirus are rising in New South NSW, with over 1000 cases detected two weeks in a row.
  • The respiratory virus regularly circulates in late winter and spring, but cases are higher than usual this year.
  • Young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are most susceptible to severe cases.
Over the last three years,, vaccines, and respiratory illness.
Now, a different virus is spreading in Australia.
Human metapneumovirus – also known as hMPV – is surging in NSW and experts say it could be on the rise in other states.

So what is hMPV, can it be treated, and should we be concerned about rising case numbers?

What is hMPV?

Human metapneumovirus is a respiratory virus that often circulates in late winter and spring in Australia.
It is closely related to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and symptoms include coughing or wheezing, shortness of breath and nasal congestion.

Young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are most susceptible to severe cases.

In the week ending 17 September, there were 1168 positive tests for hMPV in NSW.
There were 1008 cases the week ending 10 September, up from 648 the week before.
Nusrat Homaira, a respiratory epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales, said detection of viruses has increased since the coronavirus pandemic.
“Human metapneumovirus is a well-known respiratory virus like influenza and RSV and we see children commonly affected with this virus,” Homaira said.

“However, since the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic, seasonality and distribution patterns for common respiratory viruses have been altered and there has been increased detection as well.”

How serious is hMPV?

Similar to other viruses and respiratory illnesses, the severity of hMPV can vary.
Infection usually causes a mild upper respiratory tract infection, but can also lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.
John-Sebastian Eden, senior research fellow at the University of Sydney, said the virus should be taken seriously.
“For most teenagers and adults the infection is severe, it’s not like just a little runny nose, you have a cough and it can move into your lower airways and that’s where you would have severe disease,” he said.
“It can be deadly, but for the majority, it is a nasty respiratory illness.”

Eden said the virus is likely circulating in other states, particularly along the east coast.

Paul Griffin, director of infectious diseases at Mater Health Services in Queensland, said the virus is prone to causing outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals, and said it’s important to identify cases early.
“Another key takeaway is that if you are unwell and test negative for COVID, flu and even RSV, it’s still important to take precautions, particularly staying away from others, until your symptoms settle,” he said.

“Also consider getting a full respiratory virus PCR panel via a laboratory to identify what you are infected with.”

How can you treat hMPV?

There is no vaccine or official treatment available for hMPV.
Eden said those with severe cases can be treated in hospital, while mild cases can be managed from home.

“If you were sick enough that you had to go to hospital, the treatment would be ventilation or oxygen depending on how sick you are, and fluids,” he said.

“Normally it is just supporting the body and immune system until your body fights it, and most people pull through in that regard.
“If we’re feeling a runny nose or a bit of a cough, we should be staying home and having fluids and resting.”

NSW Health advises following health and safety guidelines to reduce the chance of transmission, including regularly washing and sanitising hands, wearing a mask in crowded places, and staying home if you have cold or flu symptoms.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/a-virus-you-probably-havent-heard-of-is-surging-in-australia/opyahfgn3 Human metapneumovirus: A virus you probably haven’t heard of is surging in Australia

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