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Key facts

  • MERS is a severe respiratory disease caused by MERS-coronavirus (MERS‐CoV), a new virus first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
  • Typical MERS symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
  • Pneumonia is common but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported.
  • Travellers to the Middle East have acquired the infection after exposure to infected animals, animal products or human cases (such as in a health care setting).

For more information, read the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) fact sheet.

Global situation

  • At the end of October 2021, a total of 2578 laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), including 888 associated deaths were reported globally. The majority of these cases were reported from Saudi Arabia, which had 2178 cases including 810 related deaths.
  • Additional cases of MERS-CoV infection are expected to be reported from the Middle East and sporadic cases will continue to be exported from there to other countries by travellers.
  • To date, no cases have been associated with Hajj.

For more information about MERS in the Middle East, refer to WHO - Middle East respiratory syndrome updates.

Travel advice

WHO have provided Travel advice for people making pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia.

NSW Health also provides Hajj travel advice with information for pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj or Umrah.

Also note the Australian Government's Smartraveller Travel advice for Saudi Arabia and the Australian Department of Health Information for travellers about MERS.

Risk from camels

Camels in the Middle East are suspected to be the primary source of infection for humans.

Travellers in the Middle East should:

  • avoid all contact with camels 
  • not drink raw camel milk or camel urine
  • not eat camel meat unless it has been properly cooked.

Hospital outbreaks

MERS-CoV does not seem to pass easily from person to person but transmission is more likely in certain settings, such as occurs when providing unprotected care to a patient.

Hospitals outbreaks of MERS-CoV are well known, making the strict and timely application of appropriate infection prevention and control measures vital.

Current as at: Tuesday 2 May 2023
Contact page owner: Vaccine Preventable Diseases