A representational image of a virus can be seen. — Unsplash/File
A representational image of a virus can be seen. — Unsplash/File

Doctors have warned people about a virus which is on the spread causing symptoms just like COVID-19 and influenza — a lower lung infection, hacking cough, runny nose, sore throat and fever. Scientists so far have little to offer about the virus that has led to hundreds of hospitalisations and it is not coronavirus.

There was an uptick in the cases of human metapneumovirus (HMPV), in March, said US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s respiratory virus surveillance systems.

The hospitals’ ICUs were filled with young children and seniors who are to be most affected by the infections.

In mid-March, nearly 11% of people were positive for HMPV, a number that’s about 36% higher than the average, pre-pandemic seasonal peak of 7% test positivity.

Dr John Williams, a paediatrician at the University of Pittsburgh who has spent his career researching vaccines and treatments for HMPV, said it was “the most important virus you’ve never heard of.”

Dr Williams said that “as well as flu and RSV, HMPV was one of the viruses most likely to hospitalize people and even kill them.”

Infected people may have contracted the virus inadvertently as people are only tested for it in the hospital or emergency room.

The number of people who die or get infected with this virus is not known as there is a lack of testing but the positive cases are on the rise, with most children affected by it by the age of five.

There is currently no drug or vaccine to treat HMPV.

The symptoms of the virus include cough, runny nose, sore throat and fever, when severe, patients may struggle to breathe, or suffer bronchitis or pneumonia.

It is said that infants and old people are to suffer the most due to their immunity.

The virus can be contracted when an infected person comes in close contact such as a cough, shaking hands, sneezing or touching infected objects or surfaces.

According to a study, it was the second most common cause of respiratory infections in kids after respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms but hits infants and older adults harder.

A New York study found it was as common in hospitalized older patients as RSV and the flu.

HMPV was discovered by Dutch researchers in 2001 from children samples in the Netherlands with unknown respiratory infections.

The researchers found that the virus’ genes are closely related to avian metapneumovirus, which infects birds.

The new virus was named human metapneumovirus. The researchers think it hopped from birds to humans and then evolved.

COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna just finished an early study of an mRNA vaccine against HMPV and parainfluenza, said the website clinicaltrials.gov.

The CDC recommended doctors consider testing for HMPV in the winter and spring when it tends to peak

A 2020 study in the Lancet Global Health estimated that among children younger than 5, there were more than 14 million HMPV infections in 2018, more than 600,000 hospitalisations and more than 16,000 deaths.

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