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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness caused by the MERS-CoV virus. MERS affects the lungs and breathing tubes. The first report of MERS was in 2012 in Saudi Arabia.

The basics

What is the source of MERS-CoV?

It is unclear where MERS-CoV came from. However, it may have come from an animal. We have found MERS-CoV in camels and a bat in the Arabian Peninsula. We need more information to see if camels, bats, and other animals play a role in spreading MERS-CoV.

Can I still travel to countries where MERS cases have occurred?

There are currently no travel bans to countries with MERS cases. 

What if I recently traveled to a country that has reported MERS and I get sick? 

If you develop symptoms within 14 days of traveling to an infected area, contact your health care provider immediately. Tell your health care provider about your symptoms and recent travel history. Your health care provider will determine if you need MERS testing.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of MERS?

MERS symptoms include severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include diarrhea and nausea or vomiting. More severe complications such as pneumonia and kidney failure can occur. About 3 of every 10 people reported with MERS have died, but most had other medical problems. Some infected people can also have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. 

Who is at an increased risk for getting MERS?

  • Recent travelers from the Arabian Peninsula
  • Close contacts of an ill traveler from the Arabian Peninsula
  • Close contacts of a confirmed case of MERS
  • Health care personnel who had close contact with a confirmed case of MERS
  • People with exposure to camels

Who has a higher risk to develop severe complications from MERS?

People at high risk of serious illness from MERS include people with diabetes, kidney failure, chronic lung problems or a weakened immune systems. 

Prevention

Does MERS spread from person to person?

Yes. MERS can spread between people who are in close contact. This includes anyone who provided care for an ill person and anyone who stays in the same place with an infected person. 

What should I do if I had close contact with someone who has MERS?

If you have had close contact with a confirmed MERS case within the last 14 days, contact your health care provider for an evaluation. 

How can I help protect myself?

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 and throw the tissue in the trash. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper arm
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs
  • For travelers, always practice general hygiene measures. Avoid contact with sick animals. Travelers should also avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products

Treatment

Is there a vaccine?

There is currently no vaccine for MERS.

What is the treatment for MERS?

There is no specific treatment for MERS. Individuals with MERS get care to help lessen their symptoms. 

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