What is MERS-CoV?

The 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).

How common is MERS-CoV?

According to the CDC, more than 1,200 cases have been confirmed worldwide to date, with nearly 450 deaths, for a death rate of 37%.

In all, 25 countries have reported cases since 2012, when MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia. In the U.S., two people learned they had MERS in 2014. Both had traveled to areas where there were infections. They both recovered.


What are the symptoms of MERS-CoV?

Most people confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection have had a severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of:

  • Fever;
  • Cough;
  • Shortness of breath.

Some people also had gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea and nausea/vomiting. For many people with MERS, more severe complications followed, such as pneumonia and kidney failure. About 3 to 4 out of every 10 people reported with MERS have died. Most of the people who died had an underlying medical condition. Some infected people had mild symptoms (such as cold) or no symptoms at all, they recovered.

Based on what researchers know so far, people with pre-existing medical conditions (also called comorbidities) may be more likely to become infected with MERS-CoV, or have a severe case. Pre-existing conditions from reported cases for which we have information have included diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung, heart, and kidney disease. Individuals with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk for getting MERS or having a severe case.

Based on the information we have to date, the incubation period for MERS (time between when a person is exposed to MERS-CoV and when they start to have symptoms) is usually about 5 or 6 days but can range from 2 to 14 days.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor, especially if you just have traveled from the affected areas. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes MERS-CoV?

MERS is caused by a virus called a coronavirus. It’s also sometimes referred to as MERS-CoV, for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. It’s a close cousin of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus that infected more than 8,000 people worldwide in 2003, killing 774. But MERS doesn’t appear to spread as easily as SARS. Coronaviruses are common globally, the CDC says. Five different types can make people sick. They also infect animals. Although some coronaviruses cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness, MERS, like SARS, can cause severe illness and death.

MERS-CoV is a zoonotic virus that is transmitted from animals to humans. The origins of the virus are not fully understood but, according to the analysis of different virus genomes, it is believed that it originated in bats and was transmitted to camels sometime in the distant past.

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 a 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.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for MERS-CoV?

There are many risk factors for MERS, such as:

  • Travel from the affected areas;
  • In contact with people/ animals that are infected;
  • An older adult;
  • Have a weakened immune system or a chronic disease, such as diabetes or lung disease.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is MERS-CoV diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct several different laboratory tests to detect MERS-CoV infection. In general, these lab tests fall into two categories:

  • Molecular tests, which look for evidence of active infection. Molecular tests are used to diagnose active infection (presence of MERS-CoV) in people who are thought to be infected with MERS-CoV based on their clinical symptoms and having links to places where MERS has been reported.
  • Serology tests, which look for previous infection by detecting antibodies to MERS-CoV. Serology testing is used to detect previous infection (antibodies to MERS-CoV) in people who may have been exposed to the virus. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body’s immune system to attack and kill viruses, bacteria, and other microbes during infection. The presence of antibodies to MERS-CoV indicates that a person had been previously infected with the virus and developed an immune response. Serology tests are for surveillance or investigational purposes and not for diagnostic purposes.

How is MERS-CoV treated?

There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for MERS-CoV infection. Individuals with MERS often receive medical care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, current treatment includes care to support vital organ functions.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage MERS-CoV?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with MERS:

  • Observe good personal hygiene at all times;
  • Practice frequent hand washing (e.g. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are soiled);
  • You may consider wearing a surgical mask in crowded places and avoid close contact with persons suffering from acute respiratory infections (e.g. someone who is coughing);
  • Avoid contact with camels, including not visiting camel farms. If the contact has been made, thoroughly wash hands with soap.
  • Adopt good food safety and hygiene practices and avoid consuming unpasteurized camel milk and undercooked meats.
  • Avoid visiting healthcare institutions in the Middle East, unless it is necessary to do so.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: October 25, 2016 | Last Modified: April 13, 2017

You might also like