Human Metapneumovirus: Possible Cause of Acute Respiratory Infections

According to the World Health Organization, two million children die every year from acute respiratory infections, the leading killer in the developing world. In most cases the culprits are different types of viruses. Though the doctors believe that, in most cases people develop immunity after having just one of these viral infections. One of the most common viruses in children and elderly who are hospitalized due to respiratory illness and related complications is human metapneumovirus (hMPV).

Discovered only in 2001 by Dutch researchers, this negative, single stranded RNA virus, hMPV, is not destroyed by natural killer cells (capable of killing infected cells and are critical to innate immune response – the first line of defence against infection).

This particular virus generally offers symptoms similar to common cold. Though for some, the virus causes the respiratory system to swell and clog with mucus, which can prove to be hazardous. In developing countries, mostly these children die whereas in Western countries, they are hospitalized and treated to help dislodge the mucus and ease breathing.

The doctors for safety often land up in prescribing broad spectrum antibiotics, because standard detection method of hMPV is not available till date. The antibiotics do not help in recovery of the ill people and at the same time increases the antibiotic resistant bacteria, a potential threat to the whole community.

Ingvild Bjellemo Johnsen, from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology is working on hMPV to understand the host viral interaction to develop new vaccines, good diagnostic tools, and new forms of treatment. According to Johnson, “hMPV like other viruses have one clear goal: to reproduce and to do so successfully, they must be incredibly good at one thing, namely hiding.” She is exploring the importance of interactions of different proteins, when this particular virus enters into the body. In a few years time, she is hoping to gather a lot of information. She is planning to screen an estimation of over 20 million proteins, though not blindly. She also believes that there should be some kind of relationship between serious respiratory infection and asthma, a chronic inflammation of airways. Asthma is the most common cause of hospitalization among children in Norway. According to the World Health Organisation, 235 million people have asthma globally each year, though the reasons of this illness are not clear yet. These tests would also be combined with laboratory experiments to uncover potential relationships between respiratory viruses and the development of asthma.

This study would not only help in prevention, detection and treatment of acute respiratory illnesses caused by hMPV, but would also cut down the needless usage of antibiotics and thus would slow down the global increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria.

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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