Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome is caused by a distinctive corona virus (MERS-CoV). Typical early symptoms include fever, cough, chills, and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common. Some cases have had diarrhoea, nausea, or vomiting. Other cases tested after their contact with MERS patients have had no symptoms. Complications of MERS include severe pneumonia and organ failure. As of now, approximately 35-40% of confirmed cases have died. Most severe cases of MERS have had underlying chronic medical conditions. There is no known vaccine or specific treatment management is supportive.
The majority of MERS cases have resulted from human-to-human transmission. The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as occurs when providing unprotected care to a patient. Pilgrims living and travelling in close quarters may be at risk, even though the risk is considered very low.
Since the first case of MERS was reported in 2012 from Saudi Arabia, more than 1200 confirmed cases of MERS have been reported in 25 countries. All MERS cases to date have resided in or travelled to the Arabian Peninsula or have been linked to a case who had recently travelled there.
Presently, 1,244 MERS cases have been reported globally to date, with at least 446 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Moreover, WHO does not recommend the application of any travel or trade restriction to areas affected by MERS-CoV. However, to reduce the risk of exposure to MERS-CoV, it advises the Arabian Peninsula and other residents travelling to affected areas to maintain their vigilance and adopt the following health precautions when overseas:
- Observe good personal hygiene at all times
- Practice frequent hand washing (e.g. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are soiled)
- You may consider wearing a surgical mask in crowded places and avoid close contact with persons suffering from acute respiratory infections (e.g. someone who is coughing)
- Avoid contact with camels and other live farm or wild animals, including not visiting camel farms. If contact has been made, thoroughly wash hands with soap
- Adopt good food safety and hygiene practices and avoid consuming unpasteurised milk, undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables (unless they have been peeled), or unsafe water
- Avoid visiting healthcare institutions in the Middle East and South Korea, unless it is necessary to do so
Is it fine to travel?
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are closely monitoring the virus. They’re currently not recommending changing your plans if you’re travelling to the Middle East or other places where the virus has been reported.
However, if you have travelled to the Arabian Peninsula or a neighbouring country and you develop a fever and symptoms of MERS-CoV within 14 days of returning, see your doctor and discuss your recent travel.