Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a severe respiratory disease that is thought to be caught from contact with camels or camel products or from another person with MERS.
Clusters of MERS infections occur regularly in hospitals in Saudi Arabia and may be large. There may also be clusters amongst households. Sporadic cases, which are those not linked to another human case, continue to occur. A full list of countries that have ever reported MERS cases can be accessed on the Department’s Countries with laboratory confirmed cases MERS cases webpage.
All cases of MERS have had a history of residence in or travel to the Middle East (mainly Saudi Arabia), or contact with travellers returning from these areas, or can be linked to an initial imported case. People living in or travelling to the Middle East or who have had contact with other people with MERS may be at risk of getting the disease.
MERS can cause severe symptoms and death in some people. People with existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease (e.g. the elderly, those with a weakened immune system or those with other health conditions) may be at a higher risk of becoming very unwell or dying due to MERS. Travellers should consult their doctor before travelling to discuss the risks and decide whether travelling to the Middle East is appropriate at this time.
It is important for travellers to protect themselves from MERS by taking precautions to avoid close contact with sick people or animals. Wash hands regularly and take particular care when visiting places where animals are present. Avoid raw or unpasteurised camel products. People with existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease should avoid all contact with camels and the consumption of camel products.
A MERS information card has been produced to assist travellers before and after travel. The card can be downloaded from the Department of Health website. Copies are available in multiple languages by emailing Human Biosecurity.