WHO mission in Saudi Arabia conduct MERS assessment

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (MERS coronavirus, also called MERS-CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Symptoms of MERS range from none to mild or severe respiratory ailments, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and, on occasion, pneumonia. Sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, may be present. In a handful of patients, particularly those with chronic underlying health conditions, the virus may cause severe illness, leading to respiratory failure that requires mechanical ventilation and support in an intensive care unit. About one third of reported cases have died (case–fatality rate 34.8%). Most of the asymptomatic cases have been detected during follow-up and testing of secondary parties in a MERS-confirmed case.

In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 12 countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) have so far reported laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS.

Current scientific evidence suggests that dromedary camels are a major reservoir host for MERS-CoV and an animal source of MERS infection in humans. However, the exact role of dromedaries in the transmission of the virus and the exact route(s) of transmission are unknown. Although, no sustained human-to-human transmission has been documented, cases have been reported where there was some unprotected contact with infected persons, such as in a health care setting. Health care-associated outbreaks have occurred in several countries, with the largest seen in Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There is no vaccine available for MERS at present. Precautionary infection prevention measures such as avoiding unpasteurized or uncooked animal products, practicing safe hygiene habits in health care settings and around dromedaries, community education and awareness training for health workers as well as implementing effective control measures can help prevent the spread of MERS.