Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since been identified in other Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Other countries have reported imported cases of MERS from arriving travellers. All cases have either lived in or travelled to affected countries, had close contact with travellers returning from affected parts of the Middle East or can be linked to further limited spread from an imported case. These countries include Algeria, Austria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malaysia, Netherlands, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.
There have been no cases in Australia to date.
Since May 2015, a number of cases of MERS have been reported in the Republic of Korea.
What are the symptoms and who is at risk?
MERS can cause a rapid onset of severe respiratory illness with a fatality rate of around 30%. There is no vaccine to protect against MERS. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Some patients have reported a variety of other symptoms, including muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea. Some patients have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. MERS can affect anyone, though severe cases have most frequently occurred in people with underlying conditions that may have made them more susceptible to infection (including diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, asthma and lung diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease).
You should seek immediate medical attention if you feel unwell with symptoms similar to MERS while travelling or on your return to Australia. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider that you have travelled to a region where MERS is known to occur.
Reducing the risk of exposure
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for MERS currently available. Person-to-person transmission of MERS has been documented in healthcare settings. Travellers should exercise good hygiene practices including:
- regularly washing hands with soap, particularly in affected areas where camels are present,
- avoiding touching the nose, eyes and mouth with unwashed hands,
- avoiding close contact with people displaying flu-like symptoms and,
- using hand sanitiser if soap and water is not available.
Many human cases of MERS have been attributed to person-to-person infections, but camels are likely to be a source of MERS infection in humans. However, the exact role of camels in transmission of the virus is unknown. People with underlying illnesses, such as diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, or other immunocompromising conditions, may be at a higher risk of severe disease due to MERS. People travelling to the Middle East who have underlying illnesses should avoid visiting farms and markets where camels might be present.
For more information about MERS, see the following websites: