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What is human metapneumovirus? And are there cases of it in B.C.?

Metapneumovirus causes many of the same symptoms as COVID 19 such as a bad cough, fever and a possible lung infection.
Here's a look at another virus that spiked this spring in B.C. PHOTO: RealPeopleGroup | E+

A mix of respiratory viruses continue to circulate in B.C., such as respiratory syncytial virus and the virus that cause COVID-19.

But health experts say there’s another virus that may cause similar symptoms as COVID.

It’s called the human meta­pneumovirus (HMPV), and while for most people’s symptoms will be mild, it can also cause a lung infection, severe cough, sore throat and fever, much like the coronavirus. U.S. health authorities have said that hospitalized cases of HMPV spiked this spring, especially among children, seniors and those with weak immune systems.

But is that happening in B.C.? Here’s what health officials say:

What is human metapneumovirus?

HMPV is a respiratory syncytial virus and most people who are infected experience mild symptoms similar to a cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The symptoms last a week, and go away without treatment in healthy individuals. More serious cases can lead to lung infection and severe cough. The CDC says it’s spread through close contact, coughing and sneezing, and is more common in winter and spring.

It can cause upper and lower respiratory disease in people of all ages, especially young children, older adults and those with weakened immune systems.

HMPV is in the Pneumoviridae family along with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and was discovered in 2001, according to the B.C. CDC.

Symptoms include cough, fever, nasal congestion and shortness of breath. Clinical symptoms can progress to bronchitis or pneumonia.

Are there cases of it in B.C.?


Since the start of March, 7,990 samples have been tested in B.C., with 510 detections of the virus, according to the B.C. CDC.

The positivity rate in early spring was about 10 per cent and has since declined to below five per cent as of Thursday. The agency said the rates are much lower than COVID.

How do I treat it?

Currently, there’s no vaccine for HMPV or antiviral drugs so doctors focus on treating the patients’ symptoms. The B.C. CDC says people can help prevent the spread of the virus by washing hands, and avoiding contact with people who are sick.

What should people do if they think they have it?

People who have cold-like symptoms should practise respiratory etiquette (coughing and sneezing into a tissue or your elbow) and wash their hands frequently and properly. They’re asked to stay home from work or school, not to share cups and utensils, and to refrain from kissing.

Those who have difficulty breathing or a severe cough that won’t go away should see a doctor.