The Travel Health and Vaccine Specialists

Health Alert


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Middle East

Updated June 27, 2018

Updated: June 13, 2018

Information updated regarding the number of cases and deaths reported.
Original publication date: February 9, 2013.

What is MERS-CoV?
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) is a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus. It was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Coronaviruses can cause a range of diseases, from the common cold, to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Symptoms of MERS-CoV include fever, cough and shortness of breath and sometimes more severe conditions like acute pneumonia. Many also report symptoms such as diarrhea. Some cases can result in death.

The current understanding of MERS-CoV is that the virus is spread to humans from direct or indirect contact with infected camels. Transmission from person to person can occur when there is close contact, such as caring for an infected person without appropriate infection prevention and control equipment.

Your risk of severe disease may be higher if you have a weakened immune system. This may be the case for:

older people
people with chronic disease (for example: diabetes, cancer, heart, renal, or chronic lung disease)
There is currently no vaccine to protect against MERS-CoV.

Where is MERS-CoV a concern?
Since 2012, more than 2200 cases of infection with MERS-CoV have been reported including at least 790 deaths. The following countries in the Middle East have reported cases of MERS-CoV: Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The majority of cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia.

Several other countries have also reported cases in individuals who have travelled to the Middle East: Algeria, Austria, China (including Hong Kong), Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

For the latest updates on MERS-CoV, including the total number of cases and deaths, visit the World Health Organization’s website.

How can you protect yourself from MERS-CoV?
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably 6 weeks before you travel.

Stay up-to-date with your routine vaccines and adult boosters and recommended travel vaccinations.

Eat and drink safely.

Avoid food that may be contaminated with animal secretions.
Avoid raw or undercooked (rare) camel meat. Only eat foods that are well cooked and served hot.
Avoid unpasteurized dairy products such as raw camel milk.
Avoid drinking camel urine (a practice associated with medicinal purposes in certain regions).
Avoid close contact with animals, especially camels.

If you must visit a farm or market, make sure you practise good hygiene and wash your hands before and after contact with animals.
Protect yourself and others from the spread of germs and flu-like illness.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick and coughing
You may be at an increased risk if you require medical care in facilities treating MERS-CoV patients.
Monitor the recommendations from local authorities related to health care facilities in countries with cases of MERS-CoV.
Delay travel or stay home if you are sick with flu-like symptoms:
If you are a close contact of a MERS-CoV patient, you should not travel during the time you are being monitored for the development of symptoms.
You may be subject to quarantine measures in some countries if you are showing flu-like symptoms.
Wash your hands as often as possible:
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands.
Wash your hands with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Always keep some with you when you travel.
Practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette:
Cover your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs. Dispose of tissues as soon as possible after use, and wash your hands afterwards.
Monitor your health

See your health care provider, if you develop flu-like symptoms within 14 days after your return to Canada from a country in the Middle East or another country with a MERS outbreak.

Call ahead and tell your health care provider about your symptoms. Tell them your full travel history. This includes:

which countries you have visited
whether you had contact with a sick person
whether you visited a health care facility while abroad
whether you had close contact with animals, such as camels
Registration of Canadians Abroad
Sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service to stay connected with the Government of Canada in case of an emergency abroad or an emergency at home.

Related links
If you get sick after travelling
Sickness or injury
Other Resources
MERS-CoV Disease Outbreak News, World Health Organization (WHO)
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), WHO

Date modified: 2017-04-05