Aussies are urged to be on high alert for the rapid rise of a potentially deadly but little-known respiratory virus very few have heard of until now.
Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) cases are running rampant across NSW, with at least 1,168 people infected in just one week ending September 16.
HPMV was discovered in 2001, although evidence suggests it had been circulating for many decades before it was formally identified.
As with similar viruses, it is spread through respiratory droplets.
While the respiratory virus will be similar to having a cold for a lot of Aussies, some are at risk of developing more serious illnesses.
Symptoms to watch out for include nasal congestion, coughs, shortness of breath and a fever.
Cases have soared from 648 at the start of the month to 1,008 a fortnight ago before reaching 1,168 infections last week.
Only influenza was more prevalent across than HMPV in the week ending September 16, which was detected in 1,424 people.
Health experts fear HMPV cases will continue to rise with the virus prevalent in spring.
Aussies with cold and flu symptoms are urged to wear a masks in crowded public amid a rise of Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) infections
Children under the age of five, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised are most vulnerable to the virus.
Young children who suffer from asthma are among those at grave risk.
‘It can go beyond the upper respiratory tree and go down to the lungs and cause either bronchitis or pneumonia, and that’s when kids get into trouble and end up in hospital,’ GP Dr Ginni Mansberg told Sunrise.
‘In a season of metapneumovirus, we can have quite a large proportion of the kids in hospital having that particular virus.’
She added children who are suffering from breathing difficulties or dehydrated because they can’t keep their fluids down due to coughing so much should be in hospital, regardless of whether or not they have HMPV.
‘What we’re finding is that children prone to getting things on their airways are likely to run into trouble with pneumonia and bronchitis,’ Dr Mansberg said.
‘Sometimes other kids, but mostly those between six months and five years of age, running into trouble with this. A lot of them, it will just be like a cold.’
‘The elderly and people immunocompromised can run into the same problems with something that might cause a cold to you or I, but could make them quite sick.’
She added that there are no anti-viral drugs to treat HMPV nor a vaccine, unlike for the flu and Covid.
‘It would be great to combine them all eventually and have one vaccine, but right now, we don’t even have one for HMPV,’ she said.
HMPV infections in NSW have soared from 648 at the start of the month to 1,008 a fortnight ago before reaching 1,168 infections last week
A potentially deadly virus that few people even know exists is surging in Australia, with 1,168 people infected last week in NSW alone. Two women are pictured wearing face masks
University of Sydney senior researcher and virologist John-Sebastian Eden added Aussies were unlikely to know of the virus until they’re diagnosed.
‘It’s definitely one of the viruses that you probably don’t know about until you just happen to have that test where you see a report that says, you had HMPV, you might have thought it was flu or Covid,’ Dr Eden told the ABC.
‘There’s no specific drugs for these viruses. So it’s just managing the symptoms until the immune system kicks in and takes care of the virus.’
Former Australian deputy chief health officer Dr Nick Coatsworth played down fears about the new HMPV surge.
‘It’s not dangerous, but it has a long name,’ the Today health expert said.
‘If I can reassure people out there, we’d get it every year or second year,’ he said.
‘I know there’s a spike in cases (but) I reckon we’ve become a little too obsessed about the sort of viruses that are circulating.’
Health authorities urged those with HMPV to stay home if they have cold or flu symptoms, wash and sanitise hands regularly and wear a mask in crowded, indoor places.
HMPV can cause upper and lower respiratory disease in all age groups, but it poses a greater danger to young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems