Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus can cause severe respiratory disease.
The disease was first identified in 2012, and has infected more than 2,200 people worldwide. So far, everybody who has had MERS has lived in or travelled to the Middle East, has had contact with travellers from the area or can be linked to an imported case.
About a third of people who have contracted MERS have died. Most severe cases and deaths have occurred in people with underlying illnesses that may make them more likely to get respiratory infections. There have been no cases of MERS in Australia.
MERS is a zoonotic disease, which means it spreads from animals to people. MERS gets into human populations from dromedary camels. Exactly how it spreads from camels to people is not well understood. The virus doesn’t appear to spread easily from person to another person unless there is very close contact, but the way it spreads is not well understood.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine for MERS but early medical care can save lives. The Department of Health recommends that people travelling to the Middle East who have an underlying illness should avoid areas where camels may be present and ensure that they wash their hands often, before eating, and after touching animals. Use a hand sanitiser if soap and water is not available.
If you become unwell while travelling in the Middle East, don’t wait until you arrive back in Australia to seek medical assistance. See a doctor or go the local hospital's emergency department.
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Last reviewed: October 2018