Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is caused by a coronavirus that is genetically distinct to that which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to other Middle Eastern countries. There have been 1,542 laboratory confirmed cases and at least 544 deaths worldwide.

There have not yet been any cases reported in Australia, however cases have occurred in the United States, Europe and Asia. The Hajj Pilgrimage is currently underway in Saudi Arabia with an estimated three million participants from all over the world. People returning from this event or affected countries should be considered for MERS if they present with fever and respiratory symptoms.

The incubation period is usually between five to six days, however may be up to fourteen days. The elderly, and those with multiple comorbidities, are more likely to suffer severe pneumonia, which is associated with significant morbidity and mortality.

There is no specific treatment for MERS. Suspected cases should be isolated and managed according to National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines.

References:

  1. Ackland M. Chief health officer alert: update: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Melbourne: Victorian Government; 2015.
  2. Australian Government Department of Health. Australian guidelines for the prevention and control of infection in healthcare (2010). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2010.
  3. Australian Government Department of Health. Information for GPs on MERS coronavirus. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2015.
  4. World Health Organization. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – Jordan. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015.

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