All eyes were on viruses like influenza and RSV this winter season, but Americans may have missed another important pathogen: Human metapneumovirus, or hMPV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week reported an uptick of hMPV cases throughout the country this winter and spring, which experts say may be partly due to the public's increased capacity to test for different viruses.

“There’s a much greater attention to identifying the cause of (infections) than we’ve ever had before,” said Dr. Rick Malley, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He attributed that increased attention to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The importance of other viruses and the diseases they cause has come to the floor and that’s why I think you’re hearing more about this virus," he said.

Here's everything to know about the respiratory virus that flew under everyone's radar this season, including symptoms, transmission and treatment.

What is human metapneumovirus, hMPV?

Human metapneumovirus, or hMPV, is an infection that affects the upper and respiratory tract, according to the CDC. While it can affect people of all ages, the agency says young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk.

HMPV was first discovered in 2001 and belongs to the Pneumoviridae family, which also includes respiratory syncytial virus, the CDC said.

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Is human metapneumovirus just a cold? What are hMPV symptoms?

People with hMPV typically experience mild symptoms similar to a cold, according to the American Lung Association. Symptoms last about two to five days and usually resolve on their own in healthy individuals.

The CDC says common symptoms include:

  • Cough

  • Fever

  • Nasal congestion

  • Shortness of breath

Young children, older adults and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for developing more severe disease and can experience wheezing, difficulty breathing and asthma flare-ups.

The American Lung Association said secondary infections – like bronchiolitis, bronchitis and pneumonia – can also occur and may require medical attention.

How is human metapneumovirus transmitted?

Like most respiratory viruses, hMPV is commonly spread from person to person through:

The CDC says the virus is more likely to circulate during the winter and spring months, like the flu, RSV and cold viruses.

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Do you need antibiotics for human metapneumovirus?

There is no antiviral therapy to treat hMPV or vaccine to prevent the virus, according to the CDC.

Because hMPV symptoms typically clear up on their own, the American Lung Association says treatment usually consists of over-the-counter medications to control pain, fever and congestion. Patients with more severe symptoms like wheezing are advised to seek medical care, where a doctor may prescribe a temporary inhaler and steroids, according to the American Lung Association.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. However, hMPV is associated with an increased risk of developing bacterial pneumonia that would typically be treated with antibiotics, Malley said.

“This virus is probably a very important co-conspirator in causing pneumonia, specifically pneumococcal pneumonia,” he said. “Just because you’ve identified a virus in someone doesn’t mean that there can’t be a bacterium lurking around.”

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: hMPV: what is human metapneumovirus? Symptoms and treatment, explained

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