Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a 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 to 40 percent 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

MERS is considered to be very low risk to the general public in the United States.3

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

  • Fever AND pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome; and either
    • Traveled from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula within the past 14 days of becoming sick; 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
    • Was in a healthcare facility (as a patient, worker, or visitor) in South Korea within 14 days of becoming sick; or
    • Member of a group with severe acute respiratory illness being investigated by health officials for possible MERS infection.

    OR

  • Fever AND respiratory illness AND was in a healthcare facility (as a patient, worker, or visitor) within 14 days of becoming sick in a region with recent cases healthcare-related MERS in or near the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Fever OR respiratory illness AND close contact with a confirmed MERS case while they were ill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers to these countries take everyday precautions against spreading germs, including:5,6

  • 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 (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/

References: 


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). June 5, 2015
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus - About Coronavirus. June 5, 2014.
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. Coronavirus - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) - Interim Guidance for Healthcare Professionals. June 11, 2015.
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler' Health - MERS in the Arabian Peninsula. May 14, 2015.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) - MERS in the Republic of Korea. June 11, 2015.