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MERS

What is MERS?
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness. MERS is caused by a coronavirus called “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

What is MERS-CoV?
MERS-CoV is a beta coronavirus. A coronavirus is named for its shape. It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It is different from other coronaviruses that have been found in people before.

Is MERS-CoV the same as the SARS virus?
No. MERS-CoV is not the same coronavirus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. However, like the SARS virus, MERS-CoV is most similar to coronaviruses found in bats. CDC is still learning about MERS.

What are the symptoms of MERS?
Most people who are infected with MERS-CoV develop severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. Approximately, 30% of them died. Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness.

Does MERS-CoV spread from person to person?
MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact. Close contact is defined as
a) any person who provided care for the patient, including a healthcare worker or family member, or had similarly close physical contact; or
b) any person who stayed at the same place (e.g. lived with, visited) as the patient while the patient was ill.

Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed. Clusters of cases in several countries are being investigated.

What is the source of MERS-CoV?
We don’t know for certain where the virus came from. However, it likely came from an animal source. In addition to humans, MERS-CoV has been found in camels in Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and a bat in Saudi Arabia. Camels in a few other countries have also tested positive for antibodies to MERS-CoV, indicating they were previously infected with MERS-CoV or a closely related virus. However, we don’t know whether camels are the source of the virus. More information is needed to identify the possible role that camels, bats and other animals may play in the transmission of MERS-CoV.

Is CDC concerned?
Yes, the CDC is concerned about MERS-CoV. CDC recognizes the potential for the virus to spread further and cause more cases globally, including in the United States.

Has anyone in the United States gotten infected?
Yes, on May 2, 2014, the first U.S. case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler from Saudi Arabia to the U.S. The traveler is considered to be fully recovered and has been released from the hospital. Public health officials have contacted healthcare workers, family members and travelers who had close contact with the patient. At this time, none of these contacts has had evidence of being infected with MERS-CoV.

On May 11, 2014, a second U.S. imported case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler who also came to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. This patient was hospitalized and did well. People who had close contact with this patient were contacted. The two U.S. cases are not linked.

CDC and other public health partners continue to investigate and respond to the changing situation to prevent the spread of MERS-CoV in the U.S. These two cases of MERS imported to the U.S. represent a very low risk to the general public in this country.

What is CDC doing about MERS?
CDC continues to closely monitor the MERS situation globally. They are working with the World Health Organization and other partners to better understand the virus, how it spreads, the source and risks to the public’s health.
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They recognize the potential for MERS-CoV to spread further and cause more cases globally and in the United States. In preparation for this, they have:

  • Enhanced surveillance and laboratory testing capacity in states to detect cases;
  • Developed guidance and tools for health departments to conduct public health investigations;
  • Provided recommendations for healthcare infection control and other measures to preventdisease spread;
  • Provided guidance for flight crews, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) units at airports and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officers about reporting ill travelers to CDC; and
  • Disseminated up-to-date information to the general public, international travelers and public health partners.

Am I at risk for MERS-CoV infection in the United States?
The U.S. cases of MERS represent a very low risk to the general public in this country. You are not considered to be at risk for MERS-CoV infection if you have not had close contact, such as caring for or living with someone who is being evaluated for MERS-CoV infection.

Can I still travel to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries where MERS cases have occurred?
Yes. CDC does not recommend that anyone change their travel plans because of MERS. The current CDC travel notice is an Alert (Level 2), which provides special precautions for travelers. Because spread of MERS has occurred in healthcare settings, the alert advises travelers going to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula to provide health care services to practice CDC’s recommendations for infection control of confirmed or suspected cases and to monitor their health closely. Travelers who are going to the area for other reasons are advised to follow standard precautions, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill.

What if I recently traveled to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries and got sick?
If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries, you should contact your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel.

How can I help protect myself?
CDC advises that people follow these tips to help prevent respiratory illnesses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

Is there a vaccine?
No, but CDC is discussing with partners the possibility of developing one.

What are the treatments?
There are no specific treatments recommended for illnesses caused by MERS-CoV. Medical care is supportive and to help relieve symptoms.