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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Updated: April 24, 2014

Travel Health Notice

In April 2014, the Ministry of Health in Malaysia and the Ministry of Health of Greece have each reported their first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in travellers who returned from Saudi Arabia.

Since April 2012, cases of MERS-CoV have been identified in 10 other countries:  Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, the United Kingdom (UK), France, Tunisia, Italy and Kuwait. The initial cases in France, Italy, Tunisia and the UK were linked to travel to the Middle East.

There is growing evidence that direct or indirect contact with camels play a significant role in the virus transmission. Some of the infections have occurred in clusters between individuals in close contact with one another (e.g. within the same household) and an increasing number of infections have occurred among health care workers in health care settings, indicating the importance of following strict infection control practices. This suggests that the virus can spread between humans, however, there has been no sustained person-to-person transmission and the risk of contracting this infection is still considered to be low.

For the latest updates on MERS-CoV, including the total number of cases and deaths please visit the World Health Organization’s Global Alert and Response websiteExternal link.

Coronaviruses are the cause of the common cold but can also be the cause of more severe illnesses including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). At this time, there is still more to learn about this new strain of coronavirus. People who have been infected with MERS-CoV have experienced influenza-like illness with signs and symptoms of pneumonia, which may include coughing, mucous, shortness of breath, malaise, chest pain and/or fever. Many have also had gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea.

The World Health Organization continues to work with relevant ministries of health and other international partners to support investigations to gain a better understanding of the disease and its risks. There continues to be no travel restrictions as the risk to travellers remains low.

Recommendations

Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.

  1. Be aware that the risk may be higher for travellers with chronic medical conditions (e.g.: diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease).
  2. Practise safe food and water precautions.
    • Avoid food that may be contaminated with animal secretions.
    • Avoid raw or undercooked (rare) meat. Only eat foods that are well cooked and served hot.
    • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products. 
  3. Avoid close contact with all wild or farmed animals, such as bats and camels.
    • If you have chronic medical conditions, your risk may be higher.
    • If you must visit a farm, 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
    1. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, delay travel or stay home:
      • Travellers should recognize signs and symptomsExternal link of flu-like illness, and delay travel or stay home if not feeling well.
      • Travellers should note that they may be subject to quarantine measures in some countries if showing flu-like symptoms.
    2. Wash your hands frequently:External link
      • 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  5. Stay up-to-date with your vaccinations
    • There is no vaccine for MERS-CoV, however it is important to be up-to-date on all of your routine and recommended vaccinations prior to travel.
  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, especially if you have a chronic medical condition:
      • Seek medical attention immediately.
      • Tell your health care provider which countries you have visited while travelling.