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Respiratory Diseases Around the World: New COVID Wave in China + What is Human Metapneumovirus?


As you may remember from previous traveler’s reports, respiratory diseases, such as COVID and the flu, worried health authorities in the US last winter. Now, a new disease, much less known, is on the rise. We’re talking about human metapneumovirus.

In this post, we’ll cover what that unknown disease is about as well as a new wave of COVID in China.

Ready? Let’s begin!

Human Metapneumovirus on the Rise in the US

Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is a curious disease. It has been gaining traction lately as it’s reaching high contagious rates compared to the last 3 years. According to the CDC, HMPV had an 11% positive rate in all the tests that were performed nationally. However, since it’s not such a well-known disease, many people might not even realize they have the virus.

But what is HMPV? This virus belongs in the same family as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). It causes troublesome lung issues in people of all ages, but especially among:

  • Young children
  • Older adults
  • People with weakened immune systems.

HMPV usually causes or contributes to mild upper respiratory infections, like colds. Still, it can also lead to ICU admission and, in some cases, fatal pneumonia.

Human metapneumovirus usually spreads among people in the same way COVID does:

  • Through secretions from coughing and sneezing
  • Close personal contact, like touching or shaking hands
  • By touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

In the US, HMPV circulation begins in the winter and lasts until or through the spring season. However, this spring, hospital ICUs are experiencing an uptick in young children and seniors.

Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine or antiviral drug available for HMPV. So, in this scenario, doctors help patients just by treating their symptoms.

At this point, you may be wondering: since there’s no specific treatment, how can travelers stay vigilant for HMPV prevention? Well, tests for this virus are not usually conducted outside hospitals or ERs without a doctor’s order. And, since it’s a recently recognized disease, healthcare professionals aren’t used to routinely testing for HMPV. Hence, testing before traveling is hardly an option.

While on your trip, we suggest you stick to the CDC’s recommended preventive measures, which are the same you’d have for COVID or the flu:

On a positive note, Moderna recently completed a study on a potential vaccine against HMPV. Results are not public yet, but we can hope for the best.

New COVID Wave in China

Just five months ago, China was reopening its borders after years of strict COVID-19 restrictions. And, even though they faced a new COVID wave right after this decision was made, it ceased within the expected time frame.

This month, China may face a new wave of COVID infections, according to respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan. He stated this week at a medical conference that there’s a current outbreak involving the XXB Omicron subvariant. This outbreak was expected but may spread further. He estimates infections will reach 40 million per week and peak at 65 million by late June. However, the exact extent of the outbreak so far remains unknown.

Even though this outbreak is not as intense as in December and January, elderly and high-risk patients are still vulnerable to severe diseases. And, since it’s been a while since the last Omicron outbreak, immunity may have already waned, which raises the risk of reinfection.

Luckily, the Chinese health authorities are working toward controlling this outbreak. So far, two vaccines targeting XBB Omicron subvariants have been approved, and other vaccines are also on the way.

Key Takeaways

As much as we’d like to forget about diseases when traveling, it’s better not to. Staying aware of global health concerns can guide your destination choice and help you prepare for future trips. This way, you can prepare the ground to enjoy it to the max. As we always say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Need a COVID test before you go on your next adventure? Discover testing locations near you with our international directory.

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