Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a newly discovered coronavirus that causes respiratory illness in both people and animals. Unlike most coronaviruses, which only cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract infections, most confirmed cases of MERS go on to develop severe respiratory illness with 30% of cases being fatal. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is another coronavirus associated with severe illness (there have been not been any confirmed cases of SARS in the world since 2004).1,2

MERS spreads from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with someone infected with the virus. There is no evidence of sustained spread between people in community settings, such as workplaces, public settings, or airplanes.1

Most cases of MERS have occurred on the Arabian Peninsula, and all have been linked to that section of the world. MERS is considered to be very low risk to the general public in the United States. Only two cases of MERS have been confirmed in the United States, one in Indiana and the other in Florida. Both were health care workers traveling from Saudi Arabia, although there is no link between the two cases. Both individuals were discharged from the hospital after recovering fully.3

Only individuals meeting these specific characteristics are considered at risk for MERS:4

  • Close contact with a confirmed or probable case of MERS while the affected person was ill; or
  • Fever and pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome; and
    • Traveled from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula in the past 14 days; or
    • Close contact with someone who was ill with fever and acute respiratory illness within 14 days of traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula; or
    • Member of a group with severe acute respiratory illness being investigated by health officials for possible MERS infection.

If you have not had close contact with a confirmed MERS case, or gotten sick after traveling from a country in or near the Arabian Peninsula in the last 2 weeks or having been in contact with someone who traveled from this region, you are not likely to be at risk for MERS.4

The CDC recommends that travelers to these countries take everyday precautions against spreading germs, including:5

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or if not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Be sure you are up-to-date with all your shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a map and list of countries with confirmed cases, travel-associated cases, and where precautions are recommended here: http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/index.html

More information on MERS from the World Health Organization (WHO) is available here: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/coronavirus_infections/faq/en/

Sources: 


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). May 22, 2014
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus - About Coronavirus. March 12, 2013.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) - MERS in the U.S. May 21, 2014.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. First Confirmed Cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) Infection in the United States, Updated Information on the Epidemiology of MERS-CoV Infection, and Guidance for the Public, Clinicians, and Public Health Authorities — May 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. May 16, 2014; 63(19):431-6.
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler' Health - MERS in the Arabian Peninsula. May 21, 2014.