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Home > Health Library > Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is an illness that was first found in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to other countries. It's caused by a type of coronavirus that can cause a moderate to severe upper respiratory illness such as the common cold. The virus is known as MERS-CoV.
Experts believe MERS may have first developed in animals, because the virus has been found in camels and bats. Some people have become ill with MERS after being around infected camels.
Like most respiratory illnesses, MERS is spread mainly through contact with infected saliva or droplets from coughing. In general, you need to have close contact to become infected. Close contact includes living with or caring for a person who has MERS or breathing in air that an infected person breathed out.
Older adults and people who have a long-term health condition, such as lung disease, are most at risk for getting MERS and for having a severe case.
The main symptoms are a fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing. MERS may also cause a headache, muscle aches, a sore throat, fatigue, and diarrhea. For some people the symptoms get worse quickly, so they may need to stay in the hospital.
The incubation period—the time from when a person is first exposed to MERS until symptoms appear—is usually 5 to 6 days, but it may be as long as 14 days.
Your doctor may suspect MERS if you have a fever and you either have traveled to a MERS-affected area or have in the past 14 days been around a person who has MERS.
Your doctor may order several tests to find out the cause of your symptoms. A blood sample, saliva sample, or nasal swab may be used to look for bacteria or viruses.
Severe cases of MERS often require a hospital stay, especially if breathing problems develop. You will be placed in isolation to prevent passing the disease to others.
Treatment will focus on relieving symptoms, and it may include medicines and treatments to make it easier to breathe.
MERS can be very serious. The risk of dying from the illness depends on a person's age and health. The greatest risk is to people who are older than 65 and those who have chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease.
The best way to prevent the spread of MERS is to:
The following health organizations are tracking and studying Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Their websites contain the most up-to-date information, including advice for travelers.
Current as of:
June 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineLeslie Tengelsen PhD, DVM - Zoonotic Disease
Current as of:
June 9, 2019
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Leslie Tengelsen PhD, DVM - Zoonotic Disease
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