The Travel Health and Vaccine Specialists

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

Level 1

Practise usual precautions

Updated: September 03, 2019


• Current situation has been updated.

Original publication date: February 9, 2013.

Current situation

Since Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was first identified in 2012, the majority of cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia.

MERS is rare, but it can cause serious illness and even death. There have not been any reported cases of MERS in Canada, however, other countries have reported cases of MERS in travellers returning from the Middle East.

For the latest updates on MERS, including the total number of cases and deaths, please visit the website for the World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office.

About MERS

MERS is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia.

Coronaviruses can cause a range of diseases, from the common cold, to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Some people who have been infected with MERS-CoV show no symptoms.

In other cases, people who are infected get sick very quickly. They may experience mild flu-like or more severe pneumonia-like symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • breathing difficulties like shortness of breath

Other symptoms may include:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Some cases can result in death.

The current understanding of the MERS-CoV is that it entered the human population through direct or indirect contact with infected camels or camel-related products, such as raw camel milk.

MERS-CoV can spread from person to person 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.


Consult a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic preferably 6 weeks before you travel.

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. 

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 patients.
  • Monitor the recommendations from local authorities related to health care facilities in countries with cases of MERS.

Delay travel or stay home if you are sick with flu-like symptoms:

  • If you are a close contact of a MERS 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.
  • If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards.

Monitor your health

See a health care professional 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 them:

  • your symptoms
  • where you have been travelling or living
  • 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

Other Resources

Report a problem on this pageShare this pageDate modified: 2019-06-05