Cases of Drug Resistant HMPV Respiratory Virus Are Spiking: Report
Federal health officials are warning about an increasing number of cases involving human metapheumovirus (HMPV), a relatively obscure but highly contagious virus, which has caused hospitalizations and serious illnesses nationwide.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued released findings last week from the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS), highlighting a spike in HMPV cases in March 2023.
Laboratories report the total number of HMPV-positive cases and the total number of tests performed on a weekly basis to the CDC via the NREVSS. According to the latest numbers, the surveillance system began to see an increase in HMPV cases in late winter, which then spiked dramatically this spring, averaging 36% higher in March than the average number of cases before the pandemic.
The CDC indicates the average seasonal peak for HMPV cases is 7%. This year, the seasonal peak increased by 11%, leading to a spike in hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, and illnesses among young children and seniors – two populations that are the most vulnerable to respiratory viruses.
HMPV Health Risks
HMPV is a respiratory virus that can cause lower lung infections, leading to a deep, hacking cough and other mild symptoms like runny nose, sore throat, and fever.
Most people who get HMPV only experience cold-like symptoms and may never know they have it. However, some people will develop severe symptoms, and most patients are not tested for HMPV at a doctor’s office.
There is no treatment for the virus, and no known antiviral or vaccine that is effective in preventing the illness. In most cases, doctors treat the symptoms when they become severe. However, in serious cases HMPV can lead to the need for intensive care and can be fatal.
HMPV was first discovered in the Netherlands in 2001, but evidence suggests it’s been circulating in humans since at least the 1950s. Researchers believe the virus originated in birds and then jumped to humans.
A study of patient samples collected over the past two decades indicates it is the second most common respiratory virus in children besides respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes respiratory symptoms similar to a cold.
Most children have had HMPV by the age of five. But because someone gets the virus once doesn’t mean they are immune. They can continue to contract the virus throughout their lifetime.
HMPV Outbreaks Spread Easily
Health officials are calling HMPV the most important virus you’ve never heard of because it is so common, and is a likely cause of serious illness among children and seniors. HMPV can easily sweep through nursing homes making older patients seriously sick.
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There was an outbreak of HMPV and RSV in a nursing home in Tennessee in 2017, which caused more than 75% of the residents to become seriously ill, resulting in five deaths.
More than 40% of nursing homes in the U.S. are cited for infection control problems and are often unable to stop the rapid spread of viruses like HMPV, according to a government report issued in May 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Respiratory infections are a leading cause of death for children around the world and the number one reason they are hospitalized in the United States. More than 14 million people had HMPV infections in 2018, leading to roughly 16,000 deaths.
The CDC recommends doctors consider testing for HMPV in the winter and spring when cases peak. It may be necessary for testing to occur at local doctor’s offices instead of at hospitals and emergency rooms, but awareness in both patients and medical professionals is key.
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