What is MERS? The acronym stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome also known as Camel Flu. You may also see the abbreviation MERS-CoV referring to MERS Coronavirus (the virus itself). The virus is zoonotic, spreading between camels and humans directly and indirectly. The virus spreads through an infected person's respiratory secretions, such as through coughing. 150 people have contracted MERS and 16 people have subsequently died since a new outbreak in South Korea last month. Though typically found in Arabian Peninsula countries, travel related cases have emerged in 16 other countries. About 3 to 4 in 10 infected people have died from MERS.
What are the symptoms? Symptoms appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure though generally take place in 5 to 6 days. The most common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Less common are gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and nausea or vomiting. Severe complications include pneumonia and kidney failure. Not everyone who carries MERS will develop symptoms.
Which countries have confirmed MERS cases? Arabian Peninsula countries with cases: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Lebanon, and Iran. Countries with travel-associated cases: United Kingdom (UK), France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines, Greece, Egypt, United States of America (USA), Netherlands, Algeria, Austria, Turkey, Germany, Republic of Korea, and China.
How can I stay protected?
There currently isn't a vaccine for MERS-CoV however you can reduce your risk of infection by using these practices in areas known to be at risk for MERS exposure:
- If you may come in contact with an infected person, use a half-mask air purifying respirator (e.g., a US NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirator [FFR] or a European EN-approved FFP2 or FFP3 filtering facepiece respirator). Our two most popular respirators for MERS protection are the 3M 8210 particulate respirator and the 3M 8210 particulate respirator for smaller faces.
- Regularly wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs. Don't share cups, utensils or other items with sick people.
The CDC continues to monitor the situation and doesn't recommend changing plans to travel to the Middle East or other places where the virus has been reported. If you develop symptoms such as those mentioned above within 14 days after traveling to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula you should call your healthcare provider and inform them of your symptoms and recent travel. While sick, stay home or in an isolated environment to reduce the risk of spreading the illness to others.