In recent months there has been growing concern about Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) due to the latest cases of the syndrome in South Korea.

MERS-CoV is a serious disease that was first identified in September 2012 and can result in death in some people. Most deaths have occurred in people with underlying illnesses that may make them more likely to get respiratory infections.

Other Coronaviruses that are like MERS-CoV cause the common cold and SARS. All people who have had MERS-CoV have had a history of living in or travel to the Middle East (mostly Saudi Arabia), contact with travellers returning from these areas, or can be linked to an imported case.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital is prepared if a potential case of MERS presents to the emergency department. All infectious disease protocols would be put in place if a suspected case presents. 

If a patient presents to the emergency department with flu like symptoms, the triage process will include questions about recent travel history.

To date, there have been no people with MERS-CoV in Australia.

What you need to know about MERS-CoV

Symptoms

Most people become unwell quickly, with fever, cough, shortness of breath, leading to pneumonia. Other symptoms include muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea. There have been people with mild symptoms and some have caught the virus but have no symptoms.

How it spreads

It is not yet understood how people are getting this disease.

Some people in the Middle East appear to have got the disease from infected camels and bats. How this occurred is not well understood. It appears to spread from an infected person to another person in close contact. The virus does not appear to spread easily from person-to-person and appears to spread only from people who are sick.

People at risk

People living in or travelling to the Middle East or other affected areas or who have had contact with other people with MERS-CoV may be at risk of getting the disease.

People with underlying illnesses that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease may be at a higher risk.

Preventing infection

Regular handwashing can help stop MERS-CoV from spreading. Use a hand sanitiser if soap and water is not available.

If you are around someone who is unwell you should wash your hands often and avoid touching your face. Ask the person to cough or sneeze into their elbow or tissue.

People travelling to the Middle East who have underlying illnesses should avoid visiting farms and markets where camels might be present. People who are travelling to the Middle East should wash their hands often, before eating, and after touching animals.

There is no vaccine for MERS-CoV.

How it is diagnosed?

A laboratory test on fluid collected from the back of the throat or the lungs can diagnose MERS-CoV.

How it is treated?

At the moment there is no specific treatment for MERS-CoV but early medical care can save lives.

What should a person do if they become unwell?

If you become unwell whilst travelling in the Middle East, you should not wait until you arrive back in Australia. See a doctor or go the local emergency department.

If you have returned from the Middle East within the last 14 days or have had contact with someone who may have had MERS-CoV and get a fever, cough, shortness of breath or are worried you should see your doctor or go to the emergency department. It is important that you tell the receptionist or nurse that you have visited the Middle East or have had contact with someone who may have had MERS-CoV when you arrive.

You may be asked to wear a mask over your mouth and be placed in a separate room by yourself to stop others from becoming unwell.

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