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Public Health Notice: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Updated 6 November 2014
Information is reviewed on a regular basis and updated as required.

Why you should take note

Since April 2012, cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have been identified in the following countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Kuwait, Yemen, Lebanon, Iran, Algeria, the United Kingdom (UK), France, Italy, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Tunisia, Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey and the United States of America (USA).

The initial cases in France, Italy, Tunisia and the UK were linked to travel to the Middle East. Limited transmission in the countries of Europe and North Africa has occurred in close contacts of people who had travelled to the Middle East. All the European, North African, Southeast Asian, and North American cases have either visited the Middle East or been in contact with someone who had.

Coronaviruses are the cause of the common cold, but can also be the cause of more severe illnesses with flu-like symptoms, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), with some cases resulting in death. This new virus is not the SARS virus.

The symptoms of this MERS-CoV are similar to severe pneumonia: sudden and serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Since MERS-CoV was first identified serious illness and death have been seen in patients with underlying medical conditions and/or in older individuals. The illness has been milder in younger, healthy people.

As of November 6, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 909 human cases, including 331 deaths. Additional cases of this new strain of coronavirus are expected.

Risk to Canadians

The risk to Canadians is low. This virus does not appear to spread easily from person to person and the risk of exposure seems to be only in the affected Middle Eastern countries.

At the same time, we do not yet fully understand exactly how people become infected with MERS-CoV. There is growing evidence that contact with live camels or camel based products (eg. milk or meat) may play a role in the transmission of the virus. Experts are still investigating its source and how it spreads.

In the known cases where it has appeared to have spread between people, those cases involved close contacts: family members, co-workers, fellow patients and healthcare workers. Recently, there has been an increasing number of infections among healthcare workers, indicating the importance of following strict infection control practices in health care settings.

Federal and provincial laboratories are able to detect the virus, and have been testing specimens. There are currently no cases in Canada.

Canadians can help protect themselves against these types of viruses by following some general measures:

  • Avoid close contact with anyone showing signs of illness (such as coughing and sneezing);
  • Cough and sneeze in your arm rather than your hand;
  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly;
  • Stay at home when sick.

Travel information

While the Agency is not advising any travel restrictions related to this event at this time, a Travel Health NoticeExternal site has been posted to provide advice to Canadian travellers. The Agency has also posted advice External site for travellers planning pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj or Umrah. We will continue to monitor this situation very closely and advise Canadians as appropriate.

What the Public Health Agency of Canada is doing

The Public Health Agency of Canada works with its national and international partners, including the World Health Organization, to monitor and share information. Through Canada's national surveillance system, the Agency tracks the spread of flu and flu-like illnesses in Canada. We also monitor outbreaks of flu around the world.

The Agency assesses the risk, on an ongoing basis, of viruses being transmitted from an ill traveller to Canadians. We do this by working with our partners, including the Canada Border Services Agency, to support screening and detection and if necessary put in place additional measures to safeguard the travelling public.

Additional information

Media Contact

Public Health Agency of Canada
Media Relations
(613) 957-2983