Human Metapneumovirus (hMPV) is a virus that can cause a respiratory infection. It most often leads to a cold, but in rare cases can cause more severe infections like pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Though it can affect anyone, it is a leading cause of colds in children.
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An hMPV infection is caused by contact with someone infected with the hMPV virus. The virus can pass from an infected person through sneezing, coughing, or blowing the nose. It can enter the healthy body through mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Once the virus is in the body, it can multiply. The growth of the bacteria and the response of the immune system cause symptoms.
The greatest risk factor for an hMPV infection is close contact with someone who is infected.
hMPV is a common cause of colds in:
- Children under age 5 years
- Adults older than 65 years old
More severe infections may occur in:
- People with weakened immune systems
- Adults over 75 years
- Infants 0-5 months
Most will develop cold-like symptoms such as:
- Nasal congestion and runny nose
- Sore throat
- Weight loss and lower body temperature in children under 1 year old
If the lower airways are affected, there may be wheezing and trouble breathing as well.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A cold or other respiratory infection can be diagnosed based on the physical and symptoms.
It is not always necessary to know the exact virus that is causing a cold because the treatment is the same for all colds. Knowing the exact virus may be important if the illness is severe, lasts longer than expected, or occurs in someone with a weakened immune system. A sample of fluids from the mouth or nose will be taken and examined under a microscope.
In most cases, an hMPV infection will pass on its own in a few days without medical treatment. Home care will provide comfort until the infection passes. Steps may include:
- Cool-mist vaporizer to humidify the air to reduce coughing and soothe irritated breathing passages
- Salt water nose drops to loosen mucus in the nose
- Non-aspirin fever medication, such as acetaminophen to reduce fever
Coughing or sneezing away from others and frequent handwashing will decrease spread of virus to others.
More severe infections that result in bronchitis or pneumonia may need medical support if it is making breathing difficult. Support may include medications to help open airways or oxygen.
To help reduce your chance of getting any respiratory illness:
- Wash your hands often and encourage your child to wash their hands.
- Avoid people with a current infection. If avoidance is not possible, make sure to wash your hands after contact with someone who has a cold.
- Avoid touching your face and rubbing your eyes. Infections can pass easily from your hands.
- Do not share items such as cups, glasses, silverware, or towels with people who may have a cold.
- Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke. Smoke inhalation, even second-hand smoke, can make you or your child more vulnerable to respiratory infections.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
Public Health Agency of Canada
Children and Colds. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Children-and-Colds.aspx. Last updated: November 21, 2015. Accessed: August 14, 2017.
Fashner J, Ericson K, Werner S. Treatment of common cold in children and adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):153-159.
Learn about human metapneumovirus. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/human-metapneumovirus-hmpv/learn-about-hmpv.html. Accessed August 14, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 4/24/2020