Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is caused by a coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
Coronaviruses are a large and diverse family of viruses which include viruses that are known to cause illness in humans (including the common cold and SARS) and animals.
MERS is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
It is caused by a novel coronavirus called Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). MERS-CoV is a zoonotic virus that has repeatedly entered the human population via direct and indirect contact with infected dromedary camels in the Middle East. Person-to-person transmission is known to occur, particularly in healthcare settings.
Symptoms of MERS include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In some cases, gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea and nausea/vomiting have been reported.
For a clinical description, case definitions, and advice about investigation and management of suspected cases, please refer to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) Chapter of the Communicable Disease Control Manual
MERS is a notifiable and quarantinable disease under the Health Act 1956. Any suspected case should immediately be notified to the local Medical Officer of Health, by the attending medical practitioner and the laboratory.
Any contacts of a probable or confirmed case should also be reported to the local Medical Officer of Health.
No cases of MERS have been detected in New Zealand.
Updated information on case numbers and countries that have reported MERS cases is available on the World Health Organization (WHO) website.
Advice for travellers
Information for travellers is available on the New Zealand Safe Travel website.
This includes WHO advice to practice normal hygiene measures, including frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with animals (particularly camels) and people who are suffering from acute respiratory infections.
Anyone who becomes unwell within 14 days of returning from the Middle East (or with a history of being in a health care facility – as a patient, worker or visitor – in a country with health care facility transmission of MERS) should phone their doctor or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.
It is important to mention recent travel to the Middle East, and any known contact with someone with MERS.
Countries of the Middle East should be considered as: Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen.
However, not all of these countries have had cases of MERS.
The latest information on where cases have been reported would be taken into account when considering someone's travel history and their risk of having MERS.
Transiting through an international airport (<24 hours stay, remaining within the airport) is not considered to be risk factor for infection.
New Zealand does not have any travel restrictions in respect to MERS.
Further information and resources
- Updated Information for Health Professionals: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS): 20 August 2015 (Word, 290 KB)
- WHO situation updates and the latest advice on the MERS-CoV is available from the WHO website.
- Introductory course on MERS (OpenWHO learning platform). Four interactive models featuring video lectures, presentations and self-tests. The free course aims to provide information about what is known about MERS-CoV, the disease it causes and the ways to prevent, respond to and control outbreaks of MERS-CoV.