Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an infection caused by 1 type of coronavirus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Other types of coronaviruses are one of many viruses which cause the common cold.
What is the cause?
When you have MERS, the virus is in your mucus and saliva and we believe it spreads to others when you cough or sneeze. However, you must be in close contact for more than a short time before you get the virus and so far there has been limited spread from one person to another. You are not likely to get MERS from walking by a person or sitting across from someone in a waiting room or office for a brief time.
Animals, such as camels, may spread the virus to humans. You are at higher risk for MERS if you have recently traveled to countries in the Middle East, or if you have been exposed to someone who traveled there in the past 2 weeks. Itâ€™s also possible you may get MERS if you have frequent contact with something with the MERS virus on it (like cups, doorknobs, and hands) and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
What are the symptoms?
Some people with the virus do not have symptoms. Symptoms normally begin within 5 to 14 days of exposure, and may be mild to severe. Most people with MERS have symptoms such as:
Fever and chills
Cough without mucus
Shortness of breath
Your symptoms may include mild respiratory symptoms, such as sore throat, runny nose, and cough with mucus. You might also have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms can quickly get worse and severe symptoms need treatment right away.
MERS may cause pneumonia or death, and people with long-term medical conditions are at higher risk.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and recent travels, and examine you. Tests may include special tests to look for the virus.
You may also have tests to check for other possible causes of your symptoms such as:
Blood and urine tests
Sputum culture, which is a test of a sample of mucus coughed up from deep in your lungs
Throat culture, which is a test of fluid from the back of your throat
How is it treated?
There is no specific treatment for the MERS virus. The goals of care are to prevent others from getting the virus and to treat any complications you may have.
If you have MERS, you should be in isolation. This means that special precautions must be taken:
You should be separated from other people. If you are in the hospital, you will be in a private room, and people who enter the room will wear masks. If you are at home, you should stay in a different room from other people and use a separate bathroom. Do not go to work, school, or public areas, and do not use public transportation. Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other items with other people. After using these items, they must be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water.
Call ahead before visiting your healthcare provider and tell him or her that you may have MERS infection.
You should wear a facemask when you are in the same room with other people and when you visit a healthcare provider.
Treatment depends on your symptoms. If you are very ill, you need to be in the hospital. Treatment may include:
Giving you oxygen to breathe. In severe cases, you may need to have a tube in your throat and a machine to help you breathe and to make sure you are getting enough oxygen.
Giving you IV fluids and medicines to treat your symptoms
How can I take care of myself?
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
How can I help prevent the spread of MERS?
If you have MERS, to help prevent the spread of the virus:
Stay at home and limit your contact with others. Avoid close contact with others, including kissing and hugging, until your healthcare provider says you can be social again.
Cover your mouth and nose with a new tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially after using tissues or coughing or sneezing into your hands.
Do not share silverware, dishes, clothing, towels, or bedding. Wash these items with hot water and soap before others use them.
Use a household disinfectant often to clean surfaces that you have touched or used, including toys, door knobs, toilets, and sinks.
There is no vaccine to protect against the virus. If you donâ€™t have MERS, to reduce your risk of getting the virus:
Wash your hands often and especially after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Also wash your hands before eating or touching your eyes.
Stay at least 6 feet away from people who are sick, if you can.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth when you are out in public.
Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-07-28 Last reviewed: 2014-07-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome: References
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). US Dept of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 5/2014. Accessed 6/2014 from