Health Watch | Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have the MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of people confirmed to have the MERS-CoV infection have died.
So far, all the cases have been linked to countries in the Arabian Peninsula. This virus has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. However, there is no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings.
The CDC continues to closely monitor the MERS situation globally and work with partners to better understand the risks of this virus, including the source, how it spreads, and how infections might be prevented. The CDC recognizes the potential for MERS-CoV to spread further and cause more cases globally and in the U.S.
MERS in the U.S.
On May 2, 2014, the first U.S. imported case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler from Saudi Arabia to the U.S. On May 11, 2014, a second U.S. imported case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler who also came from Saudi Arabia. The two U.S. cases are not linked. On May 16, 2014, an Illinois resident who had contact with the first case of MERS in the U.S. tested positive for MERS-CoV.
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.
What are the symptoms of MERS?
Most people who became infected with MERS-CoV developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 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. Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed. Clusters of cases in several countries are being investigated.
How can I help protect myself?
- 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.