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Patient education: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (The Basics)
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Patient education: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (The Basics)
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Aug 04, 2015.

What is Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus? — Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, also called MERS-CoV, is a virus that infects humans. Infection with the virus can cause fever, cough, and trouble breathing. Problems with breathing happen when the infection affects the lungs and causes pneumonia (figure 1). Some people infected with MERS-CoV have also developed kidney problems or other problems. Some have died.

The infection has occurred in various parts of the Middle East. Most of the cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia. The Middle Eastern countries that have been affected include:








Saudi Arabia

United Arab Emirates


There have also been a few cases in other countries, including:












South Korea




United Kingdom

United States

The cases that occurred outside the Middle East were in people who got infected while living in or visiting the Middle East. In a few rare cases, people outside the Middle East were infected by people who had been in the Middle East.

The first known cases in people occurred in 2012. Each year since, during March and April, there has been an increase in the number of cases. In 2014, there was an especially big increase in cases in March and April. From May to early July 2015, there was an outbreak in South Korea.

Scientists suspect that camels, bats, or both might be involved in transmission to humans, but they are still not sure. The virus also seems to be able to spread from human to human.

What are the symptoms of MERS-CoV? — The symptoms can include:

Fever higher than 100.4ºF (38ºC)

Fever with chills or shivering

Cough (sometimes coughing up blood)

Trouble breathing

Sore throat

Muscle aches



Belly pain

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — If you have a fever with cough or trouble breathing and live in or visited the Middle East in the 14 days before you got sick, see your doctor or nurse. If you have a face mask, put it on before you arrive at the clinic or hospital. If you do not have a face mask and you are not severely ill, call ahead to make sure the facility will be ready to receive you. That way the staff can keep you from spreading the virus to other people.

If you are severely ill, go to the clinic or hospital right away. But if you have not called ahead, let the staff know as soon as you arrive that you might have MERS-CoV. The staff will ask you to wear a mask or to wait somewhere where you are less likely to spread your infection.

Your doctor or nurse will do an exam and ask about your symptoms, where you live, and what type of contact you have had with animals (especially camels) or other people who might be sick.

Will I need tests? — Yes. If your doctor or nurse suspects you have MERS-CoV, you will probably have an X-ray of your chest. You might also have blood tests or a test done on a sample of fluid taken from deep inside your nose or lungs.

How is MERS-CoV treated? — If you have MERS-CoV, you might need to be treated in the hospital, possibly in the intensive care unit (also called the "ICU"). There is no cure for the infection, but the doctors and nurses in the hospital can monitor and support your breathing and other body functions, and make you as comfortable as possible.

You might need extra oxygen to help you breathe easily. If you are having a very hard time breathing, you might need to be put on machine to help you breathe called a ventilator.

Can MERS-CoV be prevented? — You can reduce your chances of getting MERS-CoV by staying away from animals, especially camels. Do not drink camel milk that has not been boiled or treated. And do not eat food that could have animal fluids on it without washing, peeling, or boiling the food first.

If possible, try to stay away from people who have any of the symptoms of MERS. If you are staying in the same home with someone who has MERS-CoV, stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if you can. The sick person should wear a facemask when he or she is in the same room as other people. If the sick person cannot wear a facemask, the other people in the home should wear a facemask when they are in the same room with the sick person. If you have contact with the sick person's blood, mucus, or other body fluids, wear a disposable facemask, gown, and gloves.

It is also important to wash your hands with soap and water often, especially if you are around animals or anyone who is sick.

For now, it might also make sense for certain people to avoid travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for Hajj or Umrah. People who are especially at risk from infection include:

People older than 65 years of age

People with ongoing health problems, including heart, kidney or lung disease, or diabetes

People who have trouble fighting infections, for example because they have HIV or take certain medicines that weaken the immune system

People with cancer

People with a life-threatening illness

Pregnant women

Children younger than 12 years of age

More information about MERS-CoV can be found at the following websites:

World Health Organization (WHO)

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

More on this topic

Patient education: Adult respiratory distress syndrome (The Basics)
Patient education: Pneumonia in adults (The Basics)

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