Warning to holidaymakers as new strains of killer human metapneumovirus surge in Spanish hotspot | The Sun

Warning to holidaymakers as new strains of killer human metapneumovirus surge in Spanish hotspot | The Sun

June 2, 2023

SEVERAL new strains of a killer virus are spreading rapidly in holiday hotspots.

Cases of human metapneumovirus (HMPV) have risen over the last seven years and experts fear the situation could worsen.

HMPV has many of the same symptoms of Covid and flu – like a runny nose, cough and temperature.

But it is relatively unknown as it is often mistaken for other conditions and testing outside of hospitals is rare.

Studies in the US have shown that over the last four years, it was just as common as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu in pensioners in hospital.

And HMPV, which can cause fatal pneumonia, was the second most common cause of respiratory infections in kids behind RSV in the last 25 years.


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Now, research carried out in Barcelona, Spain, has revealed HMPV is on the rise in Europe too.

Scientists found two variants – HMPV-A and HMPV-B – increased in prevalence between 2014 and 2021.

Between 2014 and 2015, 38 per cent of the samples tested positive for at least one respiratory virus – with 4.4 per cent accounting for HMPV.

This rose to 4.6 per cent the following year, then dropped slightly to 4.2 per cent in 2016 to 2017, before shooting up again to 6.5 per cent in 2017 to 2018.

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After a slight dip during the pandemic, there were two "unexpected" peaks later in the summer and autumn of 2021, when 18.3 per cent of those tested had HMPV.

Before Covid, infection was more common among children under the age of two.

Now, slightly older boys seem to be affected more often, as well as men and women aged 50 or older.

It was also far more prevalent during winter and spring pre-lockdown, but it resurfaced from May 2021 when restrictions lifted and remains at large.

Further analysis revealed that HMPV-A (59 per cent) and HMPV-B (41 per cent) circulated simultaneously.

When strains were classified into sub-categories, the team discovered that a new mutation, HMPV-A2c, had become dominant.

The authors, whose work was published in the Journal of Infection in May, said: "The present study shows that after almost two years of SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, HMPV has circulated again, first as an epidemic with similar number as in previous seasons and immediately after in a second epidemic overcoming all numbers observed along eight years."

Despite the number of cases rising, most people don't know what HMPV is, according to Dr John Williams, from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was not involved in this particular study.

"It's the most important virus you've never heard of," the paediatrician said.


The health expert explained that while respiratory infections are the leading cause of death for children around the world, scientists don't know what causes a large proportion of them.

He told CNN: "They could only identify a virus in people about half the time. And so the question was, 'OK, what about that other half?'"

While HMPV won't account for all the unknown viruses, it is likely to be as many as flu and RSV, Dr Williams said.

The problem is that hardly anyone knows it exists, he added.

"Those are the three major viruses in kids and adults," Dr Williams said.

"They are the most likely to put people in the hospital and cause severe disease, most likely to sweep through nursing homes and make older people really sick and even kill them."

A study in the Lancet Global Health estimated that there were 14.2million HMPV infections in children under the age of five in 2018.

There were also likely more than 16,100 deaths and 643,000 hospitalisations, researchers said.

Worryingly, most people who catch HMPV have no idea.

Symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat, cough, wheezing and a temperature.

Diane Davison, who caught the virus in April but thought it was Covid, described coughing so horrendously she couldn't talk on the phone.

The 59-year-old entertainment lawyer said: "I couldn’t get out more than a couple of words.

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"I would go into violent, violent coughing to the point where I was literally almost throwing up."

Blood tests confirmed she had HMPV, which Diane had never heard of.

What is human metapneumovirus and what are the symptoms?

HUMAN metapneumovirus (HMPV) is a respiratory pathogen closely related to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

It is associated with a range of illnesses, from mild infection to severe bronchiolitis and pneumonia, and spreads by close contact, coughing, sneezing and touching infected objects or surfaces.

Symptoms may include:

  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Cough
  • Temperature
  • Sore throat
  • Wheezing

Like RSV, HMPV is thought to be a seasonal virus occurring mostly during the winter and spring months.

However, the number of people which suffer from it each year is still to be determined.

Studies suggest that the majority of people have had HMPV infection by the age of five.

But it has been found in older children and adults, suggesting re-infection can occur later in life.

Kids, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly are most susceptible.

HMPV commonly clears up on its own, but supportive treatments such as antihistamines and breathing assistance are sometimes provided.

Source: gov.uk and the American Lung Association

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