Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a rare but severe respiratory illness that originated in Middle Eastern countries. It is spread through close contact with camels, camel products, or an infected person.
MERS is a disease (caused by viruses in the species Middle East respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus) that can cause a rapid onset of severe respiratory disease in people. It’s thought to be caught from contact with camels, camel products or from another person with MERS. There have been no cases in Australia to date.
People with existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease may be at a higher risk of becoming very unwell or dying due to MERS.
MERS is a zoonotic disease, which means it can spread from animals to people.
It’s spread to humans from infected dromedary camels. Scientific evidence suggests that MERS coronavirus is not present in Australian camels.
There can also be limited transmission between people through close contact with an infected person.
MERS symptoms typically include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Other symptoms include muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea.
Some people who have been infected with the virus have mild or no symptoms. These are usually people who have been tested because they were close contacts of seriously ill cases.
People who have recently returned from overseas, or who have been in contact with a case overseas, and who develop any of these symptoms, should seek medical advice immediately.
Who is at risk
People living in or travelling to the Middle East or other affected areas or who have had contact with an infected case may be at risk of being infected.
People with underlying illnesses that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease may also be at a higher risk of severe disease. These people should consult their healthcare provider before travelling.
Protect yourself from MERS while living or travelling in affected areas by:
- avoiding close contact with camels
- washing hands regularly and taking particular care when visiting places where animals are present
- avoiding close contact with people who are unwell
- avoiding consuming raw, undercooked or unpasteurised camel products, including meat, urine and milk
- avoiding all contact with camels, if you have an existing health condition that makes you more vulnerable to respiratory disease.
There is no vaccine for MERS, however Australian travellers should be up-to-date with all recommended vaccinations before travel. Travellers should consult their doctor before travelling to discuss the risks and decide whether travelling to the Middle East is appropriate at this time.
Anyone travelling to affected areas to work or volunteer in a healthcare setting should seek advice and ensure they are fully informed about infection control procedures and recommendations.
MERS is diagnosed from a test on swabs from the back of the throat or fluid from the lungs.
If you have returned from the Middle East recently or have had contact with someone who may have had MERS and feel unwell, you should see seek urgent medical assistance.
Resources for travellers
This information card gives guidance on what you should do if you have recently travelled to a region that is affected by MERS and develop symptoms of this disease.
This information card, in Arabic, gives guidance on what you should do if you have recently travelled to a region that is affected by MERS and develop symptoms of this disease.
Resources for health professionals
Health professionals should be alert to the possibility of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in unwell travellers returning from the Middle East and obtain a full travel and exposure history.
It is unlikely but possible that a patient in primary care with respiratory symptoms will have Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), so be alert for the possibility of MERS in returned travellers.