Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus


How to Say It: Mid-ul Est Res-pah-tur-e Sin-drom Cor-own-uh-vi-rus


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a respiratory illness. It can be severe and fatal.


MERS is caused by a virus. The virus is spread through close contact with infected people.


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Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of MERS are:

  • Recent travel to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula
  • Close contact with someone who:
    • Has MERS
    • Has been exposed to MERS
  • Caring for patients with MERS—or handling their lab specimens
  • Exposure to camels that have MERS


Some people with MERS have no symptoms. Others may have mild to severe symptoms. They may be:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Problems breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may be done to diagnose the infection. They may include:

  • A sputum test
  • Nasal and throat swabs
  • Blood tests

Chest x-rays, may be done to look for lung problems.


Currently, there is no specific treatment for MERS. The goal is to ease symptoms and prevent problems. This may include breathing support in the hospital.


The risk of MERS or any virus may be reduced by:

  • Washing hands frequently
  • Not touching the eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people and their items, such as utensils


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization


Public Health Agency of Canada


Hui DS, Azhar EI, et al. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus: risk factors and determinants of primary, household, and nosocomial transmission. Lancet Infect Dis. 2018;18(8):e217-e227.
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/about/index.html. Accessed April 6, 2021.
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/CORONAVIRUS/MERS/. Accessed April 6, 2021.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/middle-east-respiratory-syndrome-coronavirus-mers-cov. Accessed April 6, 2021.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)—update. World Health Organization website. Available at:
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Accessed April 6, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP

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