Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Updated: July 12, 2016

Travel Health Notice

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) is an infectious disease caused by a virus from the coronaviruses family. Coronaviruses are one of the causes of the common cold but can also be the cause of more severe illnesses including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). People who have been infected with MERS-CoV have experienced clinical symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. Many have also reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against MERS-CoV.

The current understanding of MERS-CoV is that the virus has spread to humans from direct or indirect contact with infected camels or humans.

Some of the infections have occurred in groups of individuals in close contact with one another (for example: within the same household or work environment) and an increasing number of outbreaks have occurred within health care settings among patients and health care workers, indicating the importance of following strict infection control practices.  Based on the current available evidence, the public health risk posed by MERS-CoV to Canadians remains low.

Where is MERS-CoV a concern?

Since September 2012, the following countries in the Middle East have reported cases of MERS-CoV: Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Several other countries have also reported cases in individuals who have travelled to the Middle East: Algeria, Austria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Limited local transmission among close contacts of these travellers has also been reported.

In June 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported an outbreak of MERS-CoV occurring in a hospital in the Riyadh region of Saudi Arabia.

For the latest updates on MERS-CoV, including the total number of cases and deaths, please visit the World Health Organization's website. There continue to be no travel restrictions as the risk to travellers remains low.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that those travelling practise usual precautions as outlined in the recommendations section below.

Recommendations

  1. Be aware that the risk may be higher for travellers with chronic medical conditions (for example: diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease).
    • If you have chronic medical conditions, your risk may be higher.
  2. Practise safe food and water precautions.
    • Avoid food that may be contaminated with animal secretions.
    • Avoid raw or undercooked (rare) camel meat. Only eat foods that are well cooked and served hot.
    • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products such as raw camel milk.
    • Avoid drinking camel urine (a practice associated with medicinal purposes in certain regions).
  3. Avoid close contact with all wild or farmed animals, such as bats and camels.
    • If you must visit a farm or market, make sure you practise good hygiene and wash your hands before and after contact with animals.
  4. Protect yourself and others from the spread of germs and flu-like illness.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick and coughing
      • There may be increased risk for travellers who require medical care in facilities where hospital-associated cases of MERS-CoV are occurring.
      • Travellers should monitor the recommendations from local authorities related to health care facilities in countries currently experiencing cases of MERS-CoV.
    • If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, delay travel or stay home:
      • Travellers should recognize signs and symptoms of flu-like illness, and delay travel or stay home if not feeling well.
      • If you are a close contact of a MERS-CoV patient, you should not travel during the time you are being monitored for the development of symptoms.
      • Travellers should note that they may be subject to quarantine measures in some countries if showing flu-like symptoms.
    • Wash your hands frequently:
      • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands as germs can be spread this way. For example, if you touch a doorknob that has germs on it then touch your mouth, you can get sick.
      • Wash your hands with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds, as often as possible.
      • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. It's a good idea to always keep some with you when you travel.
    • Practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette:
      • Cover your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs. If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards.
  5. Stay up-to-date with your vaccinations
  6. Monitor your health
    • If you develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough and/or shortness of breath within 14 days after your return to Canada from countries in the Middle East, especially if you have a chronic medical condition, seek medical attention.
    • It is recommended that you call ahead to your health care provider or urgent care facility to inform them of your symptoms and which countries you have visited while travelling. Also, inform them if you have been in a healthcare facility while abroad. This way, the health care provider can arrange to see you without exposing others.

Date modified: