Human Parainfluenza Viruses (HPIV)

  • Overview

    Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIV) are a group of viruses that cause different types of respiratory infections and are most common in children and babies.

    • infections range from the common cold and ear infections to croup and viral pneumonia
    • the viruses need to run their course; antibiotics won't work
    • they are most commonly transmitted from a sneeze
    • lower respiratory infections seem to affect more boys than girls


    Boston Children's Hospital 
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     617-355-7701
     fax: 617-730-0505
  • In-Depth

    What are human parainfluenza viruses?

    Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIV) are a group of viruses that cause different types of respiratory infections and are most common in children and babies.

    Types of human parainfluenza viruses

    HPIV can cause two different types of infections:

    What causes human parainfluenza viruses?

    HPIV are contagious. They are most commonly transmitted from a sneeze, but can also be caught by coming in contact with infectious material then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. The virus can stay alive in the air for up to an hour.

    Are human parainfluenza viruses common?

    Most children will develop an infection with HPIV before they are 5 years old. More specifically:

    • More boys are usually affected by croup, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia than girls
    • Croup is most commonly seen in children 3 months old to 5 years, with the peak being 2 years old
    • Croup is seen more often in the fall and winter and alternate every other year
    • Children under the age of 2 are more likely to pneumonia or bronchiolitis
    • Bronchiolitis usually occurs in the winter and spring
    • The most common age group affected by bronchiolitis is 2 to 6 months of age
    • Pneumonia can occur year round, but is usually seen in the winter and spring
    • There is an increased chance of developing pneumonia in a crowded area
    • 10 to 15 percent of children with a respiratory infection have pneumonia
    • Reinfections can occur after the first infection, but are usually less severe.

    What are the symptoms ofhuman parainfluenza viruses?

    While symptoms may vary child-to-child, the most common include:

    • runny nose
    • redness or swelling of the eyes
    • barky cough
    • noisy, harsh breathing
    • hoarse voice or cry
    • rattling felt over the chest or back
    • wheezing
    • fever
    • irritability
    • decreased appetite
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea
  • Tests

    How does a doctor know that it's a human parainfluenza virus?

    In addition to a complete exam and knowledge of regional outbreaks, your doctor may use the following to diagnosis HPIV:

  • There is no cure for HPIV. Once your child is infected, the virus needs to run its course. Antibiotics are not useful. Instead, treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms.

    Traditional treatments for human parainfluenza viruses

    HPIV usually cause mild symptoms that can be treated at home. Some ways to reduce the severity of the symptoms include:

    • drinking plenty of fluids such as water and juice
    • acetaminophen or ibuprofen (as instructed by your child's doctor) for fever or discomfort
    • keep your child as quiet and calm as possible to help decrease the breathing effort
    • cool mist humidifier in your child's room
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