The MERS virus

Here we answer some of the questions you may have about the MERS virus.

What is MERS?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness caused by a virus. Health officials first reported the disease in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. The other name for MERS is Camel Flu and reported cases have come from individuals working with camels.

What are the symptoms?

MERS affects the respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes). Symptoms include coughing, fever and shortage of breath.

How do you catch MERS?

Experts believe the virus is not very contagious between humans. It is not known for certain how it is spread, but it is possible it is passed in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

What are the risks in the UK of getting MERS?

The risk of getting the infection in the UK is very low. MERS has been identified in 26 countries, including in the UK in 2013, where it was detected on four occasions, resulting in three deaths. Since these last confirmed cases in the UK, 314 people have been tested for suspected Mers and all were negative (source BBC news). Two patients who were thought to have the MERS virus at Manchester Royal Infirmary in July 2015 have tested negative.

Are people with immunodeficiency more at risk of getting MERS?

No. The risk is the same as that of the general population.

Can you protect yourself from getting MERS?

People can help protect themselves from respiratory illnesses by taking everyday preventive action such as washing your hands frequently; over your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash;
avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid personal contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with people who are ill.

Is there an increased risk of getting MERS by travelling to *Middle Eastern countries?

The risk of travelling to Middle Eastern countries may be "slightly higher" than within the UK, but is still very low.The World Health Organization has posted a general precaution for anyone visiting farms, markets, barns, or other places where animals are present. Travelers should practice general hygiene measures, including regular handwashing before and after touching animals, and avoid contact with sick animals. Travelers should also avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products. See for more details.

*Bahrain; Iraq; Iran; Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Syria; the United Arab Emirates (UAE); and Yemen.

This page was reviewed by Dr Matthew Buckland, Chair of our Medical Advisory Panel, February 2018.