Scientific summary



What is it?

MERS-CoV is the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). It is a coronavirus, part of the same family of viruses that causes the common cold and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

MERS is a zoonotic disease, meaning it passes from animals to humans. It’s thought that camels are a major source of infection for people. Raising camels, eating undercooked camel meat and drinking raw camel milk or urine are risk factors for the disease in humans.

MERS-CoV can spread from person to person, usually through close contact.

Where does it occur?

The disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and the majority of reported cases have been linked to countries in and around the Arabian Peninsula.

According to WHO, 1,864 cases were confirmed between September 2012 and 19 December 2016, in 27 countries.

In 2015, a large outbreak occurred in South Korea, following a single “super-spreader” transmitting the virus to 82 people in three days.

In early 2016, Saudi Arabia’s ministry of health reported three new MERS-CoV cases.

What does it do?

MERS-CoV can infect people of any age. It causes a severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Gastrointestinal symptoms can also occur.

Around 36 per cent of people reported as having MERS have died, many of whom already had an underlying medical condition.

There is no specific antiviral treatment for MERS-CoV infection.

How do we currently prevent infections?

People are advised to try and prevent getting infected by avoiding undercooked or raw camel products, and by being hygienic, especially around animals. There is currently no vaccine against MERS-CoV.