MERS in the Arabian Peninsula
As of June 2017, nearly 2,000 cases of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) have been identified in multiple countries in the Arabian Peninsula, including in travelers to the region.* In about one-third of the cases, the patients have died. For more information, see CDC’s MERS website.
It is not clear how people are exposed to MERS coronavirus, which causes MERS. However, evidence of transmission to humans from direct contact with camels has been steadily increasing. Most instances of person-to-person spread have occurred in healthcare workers and other close contacts (such as family members and caregivers) of people sick with MERS.
CDC does not recommend that travelers change their plans because of MERS. If you are concerned about MERS, you should discuss your travel plans with your doctor.
What is MERS?
MERS is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The virus that causes MERS is different from any other virus that has been previously found in people. Symptoms of MERS include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. CDC is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners to understand the public health risks from this virus.
What can travelers do to prevent MERS?
All travelers can take these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of germs and protect against colds, flu, and other illnesses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Be sure you are up-to-date with all of your shots and, if possible, see your healthcare provider at least 4–6 weeks before travel to get any additional shots.
- Visit CDC’s Travelers’ Health website for more information on healthy travel.
Health care workers
People who are traveling to provide health care services in the Arabian Peninsula should review CDC’s recommendations for infection control of confirmed or suspected MERS cases.
Exposure to camels
The MERS virus has been found in camels, and some patients with MERS have reported contact with camels. However, we do not know exactly how people become infected with the virus.
WHO has posted a general precaution for anyone visiting farms, markets, barns, or other places where animals are present. Travelers should practice general hygiene measures, including regular handwashing before and after touching animals, and avoid contact with sick animals. For more information, see http://www.who.int/csr/disease/coronavirus_infections/faq/en/.
WHO considers certain groups to be at high risk for severe MERS. These groups include people with diabetes, kidney failure, or chronic lung disease, as well as people who have weakened immune systems. WHO recommends that these groups avoid contact with camels.
For more information, see http://www.who.int/csr/disease/coronavirus_infections/MERS_CoV_RA_20140613.pdf?ua=1.
If you are sick:
- Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the used tissue in the trash.
- Avoid contact with other people to keep from infecting them. This might mean delaying your travel until you are well.
- Call a doctor if you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula.* You should tell the doctor about your recent travel before you go in for an appointment.
- Tell people who have been in close contact with you to monitor their health for 14 days after the last time they were around you.
- They should call a doctor and tell them about your illness and travel history and their current symptoms.
- If you get sick while you are traveling, see Getting Health Care Abroad for information about how to locate medical services overseas.
Health care providers should be alert to patients who develop fever and symptoms of respiratory illness within 14 days after traveling from countries in the Arabian Peninsula* or neighboring countries, excluding those who transited at airports without entering the countries.
- Take precautions to reduce contact between any patient seeking care for symptoms consistent with MERS infection and other patients and staff. For more information, see CDC’s MERS Information for HealthCare Providers.
- Consider other more common causes of respiratory illness, such as influenza.
- Evaluate patients using CDC’s MERS case definitions and guidance.
- Immediately report patients with unexplained respiratory illness who meet CDC’s criteria for “patient under investigation (PUI)” to CDC through the state or local health department.
- Collect specimens for MERS testing from all PUIs and coordinate testing with your state or local health department.
- Contact your state or local health department if you have any questions.
- Health departments with questions should contact CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (770-488-7100) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- MERS Health Advisory Poster(/travel/page/infographic-mers-poster)
- CDC Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
- Preventing Spread of Disease on Commercial Aircraft: Guidance for Cabin Crew (CDC Quarantine site)
- WHO Coronavirus Infection
- WHO: MERS summary and literature update—as of July 7, 2015
*Countries considered in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring include: Bahrain; Iraq; Iran; Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Syria; the United Arab Emirates (UAE); and Yemen.
- Page created: October 04, 2012
- Page last updated: August 02, 2018
- Page last reviewed: August 02, 2018
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