Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a rare virus caused by a strain of coronavirus that was first identified in 2012. Coronaviruses are commonly found throughout the world and can infect both people and animals. They usually cause flu-like symptoms that develop into mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness. Some coronaviruses, such as the one causing MERS-CoV and the one that caused SARS in 2003, are very serious and can even cause death.

So far, MERS-CoV has primarily only caused illnesses in the Middle East. Cases found outside the Middle East have been directly or indirectly linked to travel in that region. At this point, no cases of MERS-CoV have been reported in Canada.

How is MERS-CoV spread?

Since MERS-CoV is still a relatively new illness, it is not fully known how it is caused or how it spreads. Based on previous cases of MERS-CoV, it is believed that the virus does not spread easily from person to person. However, in health care settings it may spread more easily if you have close contact with someone who is infected.

MERS-CoV has been identified in the following countries in the Middle East: Iran, Jordon, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Additional cases have been found in some other countries related to travel to the Middle East or contact with persons who have travelled. Read this Travel Health Notice from the Public Health Agency of Canada for the most up to date information for travellers.

What are the symptoms?

If you are infected with MERS-CoV you may have flu-like or pneumonia-like symptoms such as shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, fever, cough, muscle aches, chest pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. You may also have no symptoms at all. A number of the people who have been infected with MERS-CoV have died. Most of them had underlying medical conditions and weakened immune systems.

How is MERS-CoV diagnosed?

MERS-CoV is diagnosed based on your travel history, exposure, symptoms, and lab tests. If you think that you have MERs-COV, have recently traveled to a country where MERS-CoV is active, and believe you may have been exposed to someone with MERS-CoV, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.

How is it treated?

There is no specific treatment or medicine for MERS-CoV. If you are diagnosed with MERS-CoV your symptoms are treated on a case-by-case basis.

What are the risks of getting MERS-CoV?

The risk to British Columbians of contracting MERS-CoV is low. There have not been any reported infections in Canada. You have a higher risk of becoming infected if you live or travel to the Middle East. There is no vaccine to protect against MERS-CoV.

How can I help prevent getting infected?

If you are travelling to certain areas in the Middle East, you may be exposed to the virus. To help reduce your risk of infection you should:

  • wash your hands regularly;
  • stay away from people who are sick and coughing;
  • keep common surfaces clean;
  • not eat undercooked meat;
  • not drink unpasteurized dairy products;
  • not drink unsafe water; and
  • wash your hands well before and after close contact with animals.

If you are planning a trip to the Middle East, read this Travel Health Notice from the Public Health Agency of Canada for more information. If you not feeling well before you travel consider staying home, and if you are unwell while travelling pay close attention to your symptoms, wash your hands regularly, and cover your sneezes and coughs.

For information on proper hand washing, see HealthLinkBC File #85 Hand Washing for Parents and Children.

Your Health Authority

For MERS-CoV related information from your health authority, where available, click on the link below.

For Health Care Workers

The B.C. Provincial Health Officer, BC Centre for Disease Control, and other health agency partners provide and regularly update information on MERS-CoV specifically for health care workers. For more information, click on the links below.

Useful Websites

Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

The Public Health Agency of Canada is the Federal Agency responsible for promoting health, preventing and controlling chronic diseases and injuries, preventing and controlling infectious diseases, and preparing and responding to public health emergencies. For more information about MERS-CoV, click on the links below.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) provides leadership on global health matters, including monitoring and assessing health issues such as MERS-CoV, providing technical support to countries, and setting norms and standards. For more information about MERS-CoV, click on the links below.

Last Reviewed: June 17, 2015

The information provided in the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) Health Feature has been adapted from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) - Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), accessed June 16, 2015, the Provincial Health Office - Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus, accessed June 16, 2015, and the World Health Organization – WHO statement, accessed June 17, 2015.

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
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