MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)

What is MERS?

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral illness caused by a coronavirus, similar to what causes the common cold. However, MERS is much more serious than a cold, as it impacts the respiratory system and can lead to pneumonia. It was first discovered in humans in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and is found in other Middle Eastern countries as well, though infected travelers have spread the disease to Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States.

If you have recently traveled to the Arabian Peninsula, you may be more likely to develop or spread MERS. Call your doctor right away if you become ill within 14 days of a trip to that area.

The disease is most likely to spread between people who are in close contact, and you may be able to avoid contracting it through excellent hygiene including regular hand washing and keeping personal items like cups and utensils to yourself.

What are the Symptoms of MERS?

Most cases of MERS are accompanied by a fever. You are also likely to have a cough and some trouble breathing or shortness of breath. Serious cases involve nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

MERS can also lead to pneumonia, and can spread to the organs and cause damage, especially to the kidneys.

In rare cases, people with MERS have no symptoms, but can spread the disease.

How is MERS Treated?

There is no cure for MERS and treatment revolves around relieving symptoms and easing respiratory issues. Rest and plenty of fluids are vital, and fever or aches can be treated with an over-the-counter pain medication.

In serious cases, respiratory treatments including oxygen supplementation are necessary. If you have serious symptoms, your doctor may put you in the hospital. The illness is most likely to be dangerous to people with already existing diseases like diabetes or those who are older.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 31, 2017