Human Metapneumovirus, Child

Human metapneumovirus is an infection that affects children's breathing. The virus can attack the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat). Symptoms are similar to a common cold. The virus can also attack the lower respiratory tract (lungs and breathing tubes). These symptoms can be more severe.

Most children have had an infection caused by metapneumovirus by the time they are 5 years old. Infection typically occurs in late winter and early spring. Children may get this infection more than once. Repeat infections typically cause less symptoms than the first infection.


This virus spreads easily from person to person (contagious). It spreads the same way that colds and the flu spread. The virus travels in drops of mucus or saliva. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the droplets land on surfaces and objects. When other people touch those objects, the virus can make them sick. A child usually starts having symptoms 3 to 5 days after picking up the virus.


Symptoms depend on whether the virus attacks the upper or lower respiratory tract. Most of the time, it infects only the upper respiratory tract. However, babies younger than 1 year are more likely to get a lower respiratory tract infection.

  • Symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose.

  • Sore throat.

  • Cough.

  • Fever.

  • Symptoms of a lower respiratory tract infection include:

  • Very bad cough.

  • High fever.

  • Hoarse voice.

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Wheezing.

  • Shortness of breath.


There is only one way to tell for sure if a child has human metapneumovirus infection. That is to test secretions from the nose or throat or the mucus that is coughed up from the child's lungs. This is rarely done. Only a few labs can do this test.


The infection usually clears up on its own in 10 to 14 days. No specific treatment exists for this virus. However, there are ways to relieve symptoms. They may include:

  • Taking medicine to lower fever.

  • Taking medicine to clear nasal congestion. This will help the child breathe.


  • Make sure your child only takes over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your caregiver. Follow the directions carefully. Do not give aspirin to children.

  • Ask if you should use over-the-counter saline nose drops to loosen mucus. If so, you can use a soft, rubber suction bulb for babies or very young children.

  • Make sure your child drinks enough fluids to keep his or her urine clear or pale yellow.

  • Put a cool-mist humidifier in your child's bedroom. This will help keep your child's breathing tubes open.

  • Make sure your child rests. He or she should not be active until symptoms are gone.

  • To keep the virus from spreading to others:

  • Wash your hands and your child's hands frequently.

  • Throw away all used tissues.

  • Clean nearby surfaces with a disinfectant wipe.


  • Mucus from the child's nose becomes thick and is yellow or green.

  • Skin under the child's nose becomes crusted or scabbed.

  • The child complains of ear pain. Babies often pull on their ears when they hurt.

  • The child does not seem to be getting better after several days.

  • The child's symptoms get worse.

  • The child develops a new fever of more than 100.5° F (38.1° C).


  • The child has trouble breathing.

  • The child has an upset stomach.

  • The child has symptoms of dehydration, such as:

  • Dry mouth.

  • Thirst.

  • Little urine.

  • Wrinkly skin.

  • No tears.

  • Sleepiness.

  • Dizziness.

  • A sunken soft spot on the top of the head.

  • The child develops a fever of more than 102° F (38.9° C).


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your child's condition.

  • Will get help right away if your child is not doing well or gets worse.