Middle East Respiratory Syndrome


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, caused by a coronavirus (MERS-CoV), is a severe respiratory illness recently discovered in humans. It is a zoonosis – an animal disease that can spread to humans – and camels are believed to be the most likely source for human infections. The majority of cases reported have been acquired via human-to-human transmission and scientists are still trying to understand transmission patterns.


MERS originated in countries on the Arabian peninsula. The risk to travellers is low. Healthcare workers coming into contact with MERS patients are at greater risk of getting ill, as are travellers with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, or a weakened immune system. There have been imported cases in returning travellers who have had prolonged direct or indirect contact with MERS patients.


Usually symptoms appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus and include fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Some patients develop pneumonia and diarrhea. Kidney failure occurs in severe cases. MERS can be fatal. Treatment includes supportive care of symptoms. Seek immediate medical attention if you show symptoms and have travelled to the Arabian peninsula. Don’t forget to tell your healthcare provider about your recent travel activities.

  • Avoid contact with camels or visiting a camel market. 
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. If not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Practice good body hygiene. 
  • Avoid touching your face – eyes, mouth, and nose – and cover your mouth with a tissue or use your sleeve to sneeze or cough. Avoid contact with persons who cough or sneeze.

There is currently no preventive medication or vaccine against MERS.

Information last updated: April 28, 2021. 

  • Raj VS, Osterhaus ADME, Fouchier RAM, Haagmans BL. MERS: emergence of a novel human coronavirus. Current opinion in virology. 2014;0:58-62. doi:10.1016/j.coviro.2014.01.010. Accessed May 14, 2015.
  • The WHO MERS-CoV Research Group -. State of Knowledge and Data Gaps of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Humans. PLOS Currents Outbreaks. 2013 Nov 12 . Edition 1. doi: 10.1371/currents.outbreaks.0bf719e352e7478f8ad85fa30127ddb8. Accessed May 14, 2015.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
  • Public Health Agency of Canada: Public Health Notice: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
  • World Health Organization: Frequently Asked Questions on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS‐CoV)