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Metapneumovirus - a common cause of adults' colds, kids' illness

Researchers are beginning to piece together the scope of this ubiquitous but overlooked bug, which now appears to afflict just about everybody, probably over and over. Even though the virus seems to be rarely serious, its vast presence intrigues microbiologists.//

Like many other respiratory bugs, this one is most likely to cause severe illness in infants encountering it for the first time. Although repeat infections are thought to be common, they result in much less intense illness, often just an ordinary cold or perhaps no symptoms at all.

However, the bug may cause more serious problems in the elderly and people with other medical conditions. Although new microbes, such as the ones that cause AIDS and SARS, are occasionally recognized, it is unusual to discover a virus as omnipresent as this.

"Thousands of hospitalizations occur every year due to this virus in infants," say doctors.

Research suggests that the metapneumovirus is second only to respiratory syncytial virus as a cause of severe lower respiratory infections in the young, occurring about two-thirds as often. Both viruses are members of the paramyxovirus family.

Researchers looked at nasal specimens taken from 2,000 children after they were treated for lower respiratory infections since 1976.

The newly discovered virus turned out to cause about 12 percent of these severe illnesses. They also caused 15 percent of common colds in children, including one-third of the colds complicated by middle-ear infections. "When we put this in perspective, it appears to be the second most common cause of respiratory illnesses in children," they said.

Contracting over and over The virus went undiscovered because it does not grow well in cell cultures, a standard tool for sorting out the viruses that cause human disease. It was identified in 2001 by researchers from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.

They calculated that every child catches the
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