Human Metapneumovirus Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is one of many viruses that causes an upper respiratory illness with symptoms of the common cold. You can experience symptoms regardless of age or sex, but hMPV is most likely to affect young children, infants, and older adults.

This article will take a closer look at facts about human metapneumovirus, including information about mortality and other statistics.

Mother takes young child's temperature

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Human Metapneumovirus Overview

Human metapneumovirus is a contagious virus that causes common cold symptoms, including a runny nose, coughing, and mild fever. 

Most people contract the virus during childhood. However, you can be infected again since immunity to it is not strong.

There’s no specific treatment for hMPV or a vaccine to prevent it. The best way to prevent it is through proper hygiene, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. 

How Common Is Human Metapneumovirus?


According to the American Lung Association, hMPV is a leading cause of upper respiratory infections. Studies show that almost all children have had human metapneumovirus by age 5. Cases per year are difficult to estimate as most people with mild to moderate cold symptoms are not tested to determine which virus caused them.

Studies looking into the prevalence of hMPV in people with lower respiratory tract infections (such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or bronchiolitis) suggest that about 4% to 18% of people with lower respiratory tract infections have hMPV. Approximately 7.5% of childhood pneumonia cases may be related to hMPV.

Human Metapneumovirus by Ethnicity

There doesn’t seem to be any difference in the prevalence of hMPV among differnet ethnic groups. Additionally, one 2018 study involving a large group of people with human metapneumovirus found no significant difference in terms of demographics regarding symptom severity.

Human Metapneumovirus by Age and Gender

Human metapneumovirus is most common in young children and older adults. But you can contract the virus at any age and acquire it more than once.

The virus is most common in children under 5 years old, almost all of whom will contract the virus. According to the American Lung Association, approximately 5% to 16% of children infected with hMPV develop more severe symptoms, such as lower respiratory symptoms.

A study of children found no apparent difference in prevalence by sex. It seems to affect children of any sex at the same rate.

Causes of Human Metapneumovirus and Risk Factors 

Human metapneumovirus was discovered in 2001, although evidence shows it has been circulating for many decades. As with other cold viruses, it is spread via respiratory droplets. While anyone can contract the virus, young children and older adults are more likely to do so.

According to a 2013 study involving 238 children, risk factors for developing severe symptoms include:

  • Having a fever
  • Using steroids or albuterol inhalers
  • Having lung disease
  • Having congenital (present at birth) heart disease
  • Having a neuromuscular disorder

What Are the Mortality Rates for Human Metapneumovirus? 

Most people who contract hMPV don’t develop severe complications. However, for some, the illness can be serious and even fatal.

Complications and death are more likely in immunocompromised people (who have a weakened immune system), including infants, older adults, and people with cancer.

For people with cancer who have had a bone marrow transplant, mortality rates for hMPV-related pneumonia fall within a wide range, between 10% and 80%.

One 2018 systematic review (a study of data from other studies) estimated that 16,100 deaths worldwide in children under 5 years old that year could be attributed to hMPV. Sixty-four percent of those deaths involved infants under 6 months old, and most deaths involved children in developing countries. 

What Is Pneumonia?

Human metapneumovirus starts out as an upper respiratory tract infection and causes symptoms like coughing, congestion, and runny nose. In some people, it can develop into pneumonia, a serious lower respiratory tract infection that can cause shortness of breath, trouble breathing, and loss of appetite.

You're more likely to develop pneumonia after contracting an upper respiratory infection if you:

  • Have an existing lung disease or lung damage
  • Have an existing chronic illness like diabetes
  • Are immunocompromised
  • Have a condition that makes it hard to swallow
  • Are a smoker
  • Are over 65
  • Are under 2 years old

Summary

Human metapneumovirus is a virus that causes cold-like symptoms such as coughing, mild fever, and runny nose. The virus can affect people of any age or sex, but it’s particularly common in children, who almost all will contract it by age 5.

It causes mild illness in most people. But for young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, it can cause severe complications. 

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Steph Coelho
Steph Coelho is a freelance health writer, web producer, and editor based in Montreal. She specializes in covering general wellness and chronic illness.