An outbreak of human metapneumovirus (hMPV) among children in southern Taiwan in 2004 prompted the investigation of the molecular epidemiology of hMPV from September 2003 to August 2005. Respiratory specimens that were culture negative for a panel of respiratory viruses were examined for the presence of hMPV by RT-PCR. The results indicated that 59 out of 546 (10.8%) children were hMPV-positive. The majority of these hMPV-positive children were less than 2 years old (59.4%), females (61%), and inpatients (67.8%). Infections occurred throughout the year, but peaked during the spring and/or summer months. Sequence analysis of the fusion gene from the isolates revealed two phylogenetic groups with five possible lineages (A1, A2a/A2b, B1, and B2). Among these co-circulating strains, A2 strains were most frequently observed and demonstrated the greatest divergence. Deduced amino acid sequence analysis identified several variant amino acids specific to the A2 lineage. Lineage-specific amino acid substitutions were noted at aa233, aa286, aa312, aa348, and aa296. This study indicated that genetically divergent strains of hMPV which caused respiratory disease and hospitalization were circulating among children in Taiwan.
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