Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

MERS-CoV: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is MERS?

A: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness. MERS is caused by a coronavirus called “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV).

Q: What is MERS-CoV?

A: MERS-CoV is caused by a virus particularly a beta coronovirus. It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. MERS-CoV used to be called “novel coronavirus,” or “nCoV”.

Q: Is MERS-CoV the same as the SARS virus?

A: No. MERS-CoV is not the same coronavirus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

Q: What are the symptoms of MERS?

A: Most people who are infected with MERS-CoV develop severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, pneumonia and respiratory distress. Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness. There are many types of illnesses that can cause these types of respiratory symptoms. Persons who have these symptoms and have had close contact with someone with MERS-CoV are persons who are more likely to have MERS-CoV.

Q: Does MERS-CoV spread from person to person?

A: MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact.[1] Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed.

Q: Where did MERS-CoV originate?

A: We don’t know for certain where the virus came from. More information is needed to identify the possible role that animals in the Middle East may play in the transmission of MERS-CoV.

Q: Are CDC and state health departments concerned?

A: Yes, CDC and the state health department are concerned about MERS-CoV. Most people who have been diagnosed with MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Also, the virus can spread from an infected person to close contacts. CDC and the state health department recognize the potential for the virus to spread further and cause more cases. However, current information indicates that this disease spreads to close contacts of symptomatic people with MERS-CoV.

Q: Has anyone in the United States gotten infected?

A: Thus far, there is only one confirmed case of a person in the United States getting infected with MERS-CoV. The person traveled to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia and is currently hospitalized in Indiana.

Q: Can I still travel to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries where MERS cases have occurred?

A: Yes. CDC does not recommend that anyone change their travel plans because of MERS. The current CDC travel notice advises travelers to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula to follow standard precautions, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill.

Q: What if I recently traveled to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries and got sick?

A: If you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries[2], you should see your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel.

Q: How can I help protect myself?

A: CDC advises that people follow these tips to help prevent respiratory illnesses:

Q: Is there a vaccine?

A: No. Currently, there is not a vaccine for MERS-CoV.

Q: What are the treatments for MERS-CoV?

A: Currently, there are no specific treatments recommended for illnesses caused by MERS-CoV. Medical care is supportive and to help relieve symptoms.

Q: What should healthcare providers and health departments do?

A: For recommendations and guidance on the case definitions and infection control issues go to the following website: http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/interim-guidance.html. Health care providers and laboratories should report a suspect case immediately (within 3 hours) to their local health department, who should report the case to IDPH within the same time frame.

Q: What are public health departments in Illinois doing about this situation of a confirmed case of MERS-CoV who is in Indiana?

A: CDC will notify bus and plane passengers who were on the same conveyance as the case due to an abundance of caution. There are a limited number of people who are considered close contacts to this patient and they will be notified. Some of these individuals are in other states. Public health authorities in Illinois are available to answer questions from health care providers and citizens.


  1. Close contact is defined as a) any person who provided care for the patient, including a healthcare worker or family member, or had similarly close physical contact; or b) any person who stayed at the same place (e.g. lived with, visited) as the patient while the patient was ill.
  2. Countries in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen
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