The respiratory virus hMPV is surging in Australia, but doctors aren’t worried about a case rise in the US just yet. hMPV symptoms can range in severity, but most cases look like the common cold and can resolve on their own.
A respiratory virus is surging in Australia—and it’s not COVID-19. The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) is experiencing a spike in Human metapneumovirus (hMPV), a respiratory virus that tends to circulate during winter and spring. From the beginning to the middle of September, case numbers rose from 648 to 1,168, according to NSW officials. Surges were also reported in the spring.
While the rise is concerning, doctors say the good news is that most cases of hMPV are mild, and the surge is unlikely to spread to the US.
Charles Bailey, MD, the medical director for infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph Hospital and Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, says that current trends don’t imply that hMPV will reach anywhere near pandemic levels in the US.
“Whatever potential for broad spread [of hMPV] might exist should be effectively limited by measures planned to control flu, COVID, and RSV in upcoming winter months in the US,” he says.
Symptoms of hMPV can be similar to those of influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and can include wheezing, congestion, and shortness of breath. However, “there are no HMPV-specific symptoms to differentiate it clinically,” so detecting the virus based on symptoms alone can be a guessing game, says Dr. Bailey.
Cases can range in severity with some presenting as a mild cold and others becoming more aggressive and leading to bronchitis or pneumonia, according to the NSW Health Department. In most cases, symptoms last from two to five days and resolve on their own, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).
As with many other respiratory viruses, those most vulnerable to hMPV are people with other underlying conditions that impair their immune systems, very young children, and older adults. Most children who come down with hMPV are younger than 5 years old, according to the ALA.
Awareness for hMPV
Having been detected in 2001, hMPV is not a new virus. But it’s new enough that there is not a vaccine to prevent it. People are not commonly tested for the virus either, though diagnostic panels exist to detect hMPV.
Dr. Bailey says that diagnostic panels have increased people’s awareness of hMPV as a circulating virus. However, most people are not frequently tested for hMPV, and tests that do occur are “primarily to rule-out or establish '' another diagnosis, such as COVID-19, influenza, or RSV, says Dr. Bailey.
Testing sheerly to diagnose hMPV may be an unrewarding task, as there is no specific treatment for the virus, he adds. Further, it is not protocol to track hMPV case numbers in the US. That being said, diagnostic panels for hMPV have helped raise awareness that the virus exists as an individual entity from other respiratory viruses, Dr. Bailey says.
Treating patients with hMPV
Most cases of hMPV resolve on their own, and quarantine is not warranted. Still, for patients who know or suspect they have the virus, you can advise them to do a few things to help protect their health, reduce spread to others, and get better quicker.
Dr. Bailey says he encourages patients to follow a few wellness tips paired with common sense. These include:
Avoid (or minimize) contact with others.
Be extra careful to avoid contact with those who are immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable.
Take approved medications to mediate symptoms.
Seek medical attention if experiencing intense symptoms like shortness of breath, high fever, or altered mental states.