As of 24 July 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been notified of 1,374 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including at least 490 related deaths since the first cases were reported in September 2012. For the latest updates see WHO Coronavirus infections update.

Based on the current situation and available information, WHO has encouraged all Member States to continue their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns.

Key facts

  • Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (MERS‐CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
  • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
  • Typical MERS symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported. 
  • Approximately 36% of reported patients with MERS have died.
  • Although the majority of human cases of MERS have been attributed to human-to-human infections, camels are likely to be a major reservoir host for MERS-CoV and an animal source of MERS infection in humans. However, the exact role of camels in transmission of the virus and the exact route(s) of transmission are unknown.
  • The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as occurs when providing unprotected care to a patient.

Republic of Korea Outbreak

Between 18 and 21 July 2015, the Republic of Korea notified WHO of no additional cases of infection and no new deaths related to MERS-CoV.

To date, a total of 186 MERS-CoV cases, including 36 deaths, have been reported. All cases have been linked to a single chain of transmission and are associated with health care facilities. As of 21 July, 5 contacts are being monitored.

Risks associated with camels and camel products

Camels in the Middle East are suspected to be the primary source of infection for humans, but the exact routes of direct or indirect exposure are not fully understood, and further studies (particularly case control studies) are needed. WHO advises that people should avoid drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating camel meat that has not been properly cooked.

The Australian Department of Health has issued updated advice to the community, to General Practitioners, and to other clinicians, laboratory and public health personnel, available at their MERS-CoV website.

Travel Advice

WHO does not recommend the application of any travel restrictions to affected countries but have provided travel advice for people making pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia.

Also see the NSW Health Hajj Travel Advice factsheet with information for pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj or Umrah.

Information for NSW Health Professionals

Further Information

Page Updated: Monday 27 July 2015