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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

What is it?

MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory disease. It is a new strain of coronavirus first identified by the Netherlands in 2012. A similar strain in the UK was identified by Public Heath England’s virus reference laboratories at Colindale. The virus was fully sequenced and detailed analysis indicates that the nearest relatives are bat coronaviruses.

Symptoms include fever and cough that progress to a severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In some cases, a diarrheal illness has been the first symptom to appear.

There is insufficient information to make generic treatment recommendations and patients have to be assessed on a case by case basis. There is no vaccine available for MERS-CoV.

Transmission

MERS is spread between animals and people. There’s evidence that camels in the Middle East are the main source of the virus.

MERS can also be passed from person to person through cough droplets. But it doesn’t seem to be very contagious between people unless they’re in close contact.

There have been 5 cases of MERS in the UK since 2012. The most recent case was identified in August 2018, with previous cases diagnosed in 2012-13.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • diarrhoea and vomiting

In the UK you should call your GP or NHS 111 if you have symptoms and believe you could have caught the infection – for instance, if you have recently been to the Middle East or have been in contact with someone with a confirmed infection.

Treatment

There’s no specific treatment for MERS. Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms.

Prognosis

Around 36 to 40% of people who get MERS die as a result of the infection.

Infection Control

Advice to travellers going to the Middle East

All travellers, particularly those with long-term medical conditions, should practise good hygiene.

This means regularly washing your hands with soap and water, especially after visiting farms, barns or market areas.

You should also:

  • avoid contact with camels
  • avoid raw camel milk and/or camel products
  • avoid eating or drinking any type of raw milk, raw milk products, and any food that may be contaminated with animal secretions, unless it’s been peeled and cleaned and/or thoroughly cooked