Travel Advice: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

camel

For the latest information on the number of cases of MERS-CoV and countries involved, go to the coronavirus infections section of the WHO website

As of May 2017, 27 countries have reported cases including countries in the Middle East: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), United Arab Emirates and Yemen; in Africa: Algeria, and Tunisia; in Europe: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom; in Asia: China, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand; and in North America: the United States of America.

The majority of cases have occurred in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Cases occurring outside of the Middle East have been mainly due to the importation of cases with a travel history to the Middle East and subsequent transmission within healthcare settings.

MERS-CoV is a zoonotic disease, and mainly transmitted to humans via contact with infected dromedary camels. Human to human transmission can occur. However, so far, the observed human-to-human transmission has occurred mainly in health care settings.

WHO expects that additional cases of MERS-CoV infection will be reported from the Middle East, and that cases will continue to be exported to other countries by individuals who might acquire the infection after exposure to animals or animal products (for example, following contact with dromedaries) or human source (for example, in a health care setting). So far, the observed human-to-human transmission has occurred mainly in health care settings.

WHO does not currently recommend any travel or trade restrictions.

WHO recommends that those at high risk of severe disease from MERS-CoV, such as people with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromised persons, should avoid close contact with animals, particularly camels, when visiting farms, markets, or barn areas where the virus is known to be potentially circulating.

All persons should adhere to general hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing before and after touching animals and avoiding contact with sick animals. Food hygiene practices should be observed. People should avoid drinking raw camel milk or camel urine, or eating meat that has not been properly cooked.

If you are travelling to the Middle East, you should:

  • Avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections and wash your hands after contact with ill people and their environment.
  • Practice good hygiene, i.e. wash your hands with soap and water after contact with the environment, or animals. Regular hand washing is one of the most important ways to prevent spread of infection.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands.
  • Adhere to food safety and hygiene rules, such as avoiding undercooked meats, unpasteurised milk (particularly from camels), raw fruits and vegetables unless they have been peeled, or drinking unsafe water.
  • Those at high risk of severe disease due to MERS-CoV, including those with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromised persons, should consult their physician prior to travelling. They should also avoid close contact with animals, particularly camels, when visiting farms, markets, or barn areas where the virus is known to be potentially circulating.
  • All visitors should avoid unnecessary contact with farm, domestic, and wild animals, especially camels or their waste products.
  • The annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is among the largest mass gatherings in the world. In 2017, Hajj will take place from approximately August 30 to September 4. Umrah is a similar pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of the year, but is likely to be more crowded during the month of Ramadan (approximately May 27 to June 24). Because of the crowds, mass gatherings such as Hajj and Umrah are associated with unique health risks. Before you go, you should visit a travel health specialist for advice, make sure you are up to date on all routine and recommended vaccines, and learn about other health and safety issues that could affect you during your trip.

On returning from the Middle East:

If you become unwell with a fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of returning from the middle east, phone your doctor, and tell him/her of your recent travel.

Posters with advice for travellers to/from the Middle East are available in different languages here.

Last updated: 3 August 2017