MERS: What You Need to Know

MERS:  What You Need to Know

What is MERS?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

How is it spread?

MERS has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact with individuals who have been infected, such as health-care professionals, or those who have family members who have been infected.

MERS is contagious only to a limited extent. The virus does not appear to pass easily unless there is close contact.

Am I at risk?

As of now, the CDC has stated that the general public of the United States is at a very low risk for infection by the MERS virus. Those who are at a higher risk include people who have recently traveled from the Middle East/Arabian Peninsula and those who have been caring for an individual who is being evaluated for MERS.

Populations that are most susceptible and have more severe cases of MERS include people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • When you cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, and throw the tissue away in a trash bin.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, including kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys, doorknobs, and counter surfaces.
  • Those who are visiting farms, markets, barns, or other places where animals are present should practice general hygiene measures.
  • Do not consume raw or undercooked animal products, including meats and dairy.

What are the symptoms?

Most people who have been infected with MERS will develop severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other indications of infection include pneumonia and gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea.  Infection can occur without symptoms.

If you develop fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness within 14 days of traveling to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries, you should visit a healthcare provider and discuss your travel.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for MERS. Medical treatment consists of symptom relief.


Neither the CDC nor WHO recommend travel restrictions. Those who are traveling should be up to date on their vaccines, and practice good hygiene, as well as avoiding contact with those who are ill.

Information has been adapted from the WHO and the CDC website