Former deputy chief medical officer Dr. Nick Coatsworth says the spike in Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV) cases in New South Wales (NSW) may be seasonal. According to a NSW report (pdf), weekly HMPV case numbers surged from 648 at the beginning of the month to 1,168 in the week ending Sept. 17. The report also notes that positive tests could continue to increase. Symptoms commonly associated with HMPV include cough, fever, nasal congestion, and shortness of breath. HMPV infection could progress to bronchitis or pneumonia. Similar to most respiratory illnesses, there is currently no vaccine for HMPV.
University of Sydney Dr. Megan Steain warns that HMPV has been circulating in the human population for over 50 years and can be particularly deadly for young children under one year and premature infants with lung issues. HMPV is the “leading cause” of respiratory infection hospitalizations for these children. HMPV cases are detected through molecular or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, similar to COVID-19 tests. Dr. Steain explains that the current resurgence of HMPV cases in NSW may be due to the lower population immunity resulting from suppressed circulation of respiratory illnesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant advises residents to bring back crucial infection prevention measures due to the spike in HMPV cases. Dr. Chant emphasizes the importance of staying away from workplaces and crowded places when infected and staying home if possible.
Former deputy chief medical officer Dr. Nick Coatsworth reassures that spikes in non-COVID-19 respiratory viruses like HMPV are somewhat typical during a change of season. He explains that the virus was detected on average eight times a year per child before the pandemic. Dr. Coatsworth warns that severe asthmatics, people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, and those who are immune-depressed may react poorly to HMPV.
According to the Department of Health and Aged Care Australian Influenza Surveillance Report, the clinical severity of influenza, measured through ICU admissions and deaths, is low. Only 249 influenza-associated deaths have been reported out of 235,018 laboratory-confirmed influenza notifications this year. Australia is not the only country experiencing an HMPV spike, as the United States also had a similar surge during their Spring season in March. Infectious diseases Physician and Microbiologist Dr. Paul Griffin notes that a similar HMPV spike is occurring in Queensland.
Dr. Griffin emphasizes that HMPV is not the next global pandemic but urges people to take preventive measures to slow the spread, such as handwashing, wearing masks when sick, and staying at home and isolating when possible.