COVID-19 may no longer be a global threat, as announced by the World Health Organisation, but cases of the human metapneumovirus or HMPV, a respiratory disease, seem to be peaking in the United States presently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a major uptick in the number of cases in the country, and at its peak in mid-March, nearly 11 percent of tested specimens were positive for HMPV, a number that’s about 36 per cent higher than the average pre-pandemic levels.

Most people who caught the virus probably didn’t know they had it and sick people are not usually tested for it outside of a hospital or ER, according to CNN. Unlike COVID-19 and the flu, currently, there are no vaccines or anti-viral drugs available to administer to patients and people. There is only one step that the doctors can take, which is to tend to the symptoms faced by the patients.

What is HMPV?

Dr Sabine Kapasi, Public Health Leader, United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination and Geneva told, “Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is a respiratory virus that can cause respiratory tract infections in humans. It belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family, which also includes other respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). According to The Lancet, “There were an estimated 14.2 million cases of HPMV globally in children younger than 5 years old.”

It can affect people of all age groups, however, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that the risk is higher for small children, older adults, and those with immunocompromised systems.

hmpv According to the American Lung Association (ALA), people infected with it usually experience mild symptoms akin to a cold. (Source: Freepik)

As far as its origins are concerned, Dr Kapisi mentioned that HMPV was first discovered by Dutch virus hunters in 2001. According to the expert, people infected with it usually experience mild symptoms akin to a cold, which usually last for about two to five days, and resolve on their own in healthy individuals. Other symptoms include cough, fever, nasal congestion and shortness of breath.

Additionally, she noted that in most cases, HMPV infections are mild and resolve on their own without specific treatment. “However, severe infections can occur, especially in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions or compromised immune systems. Complications may include pneumonia or bronchiolitis, particularly in young children. Severity and outcome of HMPV infection can vary from person to person, and the risk of fatality is generally low.”

How is it transmitted?

CDC reported that HMPV spreads similarly to other viruses through airborne particles produced by coughing and sneezing, physical contact with an infected person or handling objects contaminated with the virus before touching the nose, eyes or mouth. Further, the virus is more likely to circulate during the winter and spring months.

The primary approach to prevention, as pointed out by Dr Kapisi, is regular handwashing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitisers, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or the elbow when coughing or sneezing, avoiding close contact with individuals who have respiratory symptoms, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and promoting good respiratory hygiene practices in community settings.

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