MERS-coronavirus (“Middle East Respiratory Syndrome”) or MERS-CoV is a relatively “new” virus. It was first reported in 2012. MERS affects the respiratory system and can cause serious complications. Although the virus occurs mainly in the Middle East, it has spread to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) since May 2015.
MERS virus belongs to a large family of viruses, which also includes SARS and a virus that causes common colds. It owes its name to the region where it was first discovered in 2012. The MERS virus causes severe acute respiratory problems with a potentially fatal outcome, especially for people with pre-existing medical conditions. The precise ways the virus spreads are not well understood. It is thought that dromedaries or camels may be the source of the virus transmission but person-to-person spread cannot be excluded. The latter seems to escalate less rapidly however and occurs almost exclusively in hospitals or through close contact, such as in families. There is no vaccine and no specific cure.
Since 2012, cases have regularly been identified in the Middle East (especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) and there has been an occasional outbreak. Mid-May 2015, an epidemic hit the Republic of Korea after an infected traveler returned from the Middle East. The way in which the patient contracted the disease is as yet unknown. The resulting infections all occurred in a hospital (among patients, visitors and health professionals) or between close relatives. There is no evidence of any ongoing spreading in a community.
From September 2012 until now (9 June 2015) 1218 cases have been confirmed worldwide, including 449 related deaths. Several cases were "exported" from the Middle East to other countries, but there have been no reported cases in Belgium.
The public health risk for travelers to the Middle East and the Republic of Korea is considered low and no travel restrictions are issued. Those traveling to these regions are advised to take the following precautions:
These precautionary measures apply especially to people with underlying health problems such as diabetes. The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health recommends that elderly people, those suffering ill health, children under 12 years old and pregnant women postpone the performance of the Hajj and Umrah until further notice.
If you develop a fever or any other respiratory symptoms (cough or shortness of breath) during or within two weeks of returning from the Middle East or the Republic of Korea, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with disposable tissues and discard them after use, wash and disinfect your hands regularly and avoid close contact with others while awaiting the diagnosis.