About Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Current Outbreak Update:

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a respiratory disease caused by a virus (specifically coronavirus, CoV). It was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS can affect anyone, but most infected people either live in the Arabian Peninsula or recently traveled from the Arabian Peninsula before they became ill. A few people became infected after having close contact with an infected person who had recently traveled from the Arabian Peninsula. Starting in May 2015, South Korea (Republic of Korea) began experiencing an outbreak of MERS. While cases have been reported in other countries, this is the largest outbreak reported outside of the Arabian Peninsula.

While there is a level-1 travel advisory in effect for South Korea, CDC does not recommend that Americans change their travel plans.

What is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a respiratory disease caused by a virus (specifically coronavirus, CoV). MERS primarily affects the respiratory system with symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, but gastrointestinal symptoms have been reported as well.

The majority of infections are attributed to human-to-human contact, but camels are believed to be a major reservoir for MERS-CoV. The virus does not spread easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as caring for, or living with, a symptomatic person.

How is it transmitted?

MERS-CoV is normally spread by an infected person through respiratory secretions including droplets and mucous. An infected person should avoid coughing, sneezing near close contacts, or sharing food, utensils, or drinks. MERS-CoV has most often spread through healthcare settings where there is close contact between infected persons and their caregivers. The virus does not appear to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as providing unprotected care to an infected patient. Researchers studying MERS have not seen any ongoing spreading of MERS-CoV in the community.

Signs and Symptoms

The clinical spectrum of MERS-CoV infection ranges from no symptoms (asymptomatic) or mild respiratory symptoms to severe acute respiratory disease and death. A typical presentation of MERS-CoV disease is fever, cough and shortness of breath, which in some cases may develop into pneumonia. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported. Like many illnesses, MERS-CoV is most harmful to elders or those with underlying medical conditions. Pre-existing conditions from reported cases thus far include cancer, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and heart or kidney diseases. The time between when a person is exposed to MERS-CoV and when they start to have symptoms is usually about 5 or 6 days, but can range from 2-14 days.

Should you feel concerned about a potential exposure, contact 215-746-3535 and press #1 to speak with a healthcare provider.


No vaccine or specific treatment is currently available. The U.S. National Institutes of Health is exploring the possibility of developing one. Medical care is supportive treatment to reduce and relieve symptoms. People should avoid contact with camels, drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating meat that has not been properly cooked. Good hand hygiene (e.g. soap+water+30 seconds) and safe food practices (e.g. pasteurization and full cooking of meats) should be utilized.


Practice good hand hygiene:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water (an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol works too) for at least 30 seconds.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands immediately after.

 Practice good self-care:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
  • Avoid contact with individuals who appear sick.

Avoid sharing:

  • Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.

If you are caring for or living with a person confirmed to have, or being evaluated for, MERS-CoV infection, see Interim Guidance for Preventing MERS-CoV from Spreading in Homes and Communities.




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(updated 6/11/2015)