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Diseases & Topics

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus or MERS-CoV is a novel (new) coronavirus that was first identified in September of 2012 and has been associated with severe respiratory infections among persons who live in or have traveled to the Middle East and persons (including health care providers) exposed to MERS cases outside of the Middle East. The first travel-associated cases in the United States were confirmed in May, 2014.

There has been clear evidence of person-to-person transmission both in household and healthcare settings, but no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission in the community. MERS-CoV is different from all coronaviruses previously associated with human infections, including SARS-CoV.

Recommendations for travelers:

  • If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula*, you should call ahead to a healthcare provider and mention your recent travel. While sick, stay home from work or school and delay future travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others.
  • CDC does not recommend that travelers change their plans because of MERS. Most instances of person-to-person spread have occurred in health care workers and other close contacts (such as family members and caregivers) of people sick with MERS. If you are concerned about MERS, you should discuss your travel plans with your doctor.
  • All travelers can take these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of germs and protect against colds, flu, and other illnesses:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
    • Avoid close contact with sick people.
    • Be sure you are up-to-date with all of your shots, and if possible, see your health care provider at least 4–6 weeks before travel to get any additional shots.
    • Visit CDC’s Travelers’ Health website for more information on healthy travel.
  • People who are traveling to provide health care services in the Arabian Peninsula should review CDC’s recommendations for infection control of confirmed or suspected MERS cases.

Recommendations for close contacts of an ill traveler from the Arabian Peninsula:

  • If you have had close contact** with someone who recently traveled from a country in or near the Arabian Peninsula*, and the traveler has/had fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, you should monitor your health for 14 days, starting from the day you were last exposed to the ill person.
  • If you develop fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, you should call ahead to a healthcare provider and mention your recent contact with the traveler. While sick, stay home from work or school and delay future travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others.

Updated recommendations for health care providers are in a separate document linked from this page.

*Countries considered in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring include: Bahrain; Iraq; Iran; Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Syria; the United Arab Emirates (UAE); and Yemen.

**Close contact is defined as: a) being within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) or within the room or care area for a prolonged period of time (e.g., healthcare personnel, household members) while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment (i.e., gowns, gloves, respirator, eye protection– see Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations; or b) having direct contact with infectious secretions (e.g., being coughed on) while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment. Data to inform the definition of close contact are limited. At this time, brief interactions, such as walking by a person, are considered low risk and do not constitute close contact.

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