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Do I need to worry about MERS-CoV, or camel flu? 

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is an infection with a high mortality rate: it kills 35% of patients. It is thought to be contracted from camels and most cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia.

What is MERS-CoV?

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is a respiratory disease that occurs when a virus infects a patient’s lungs and airways. Dromedary camels are thought to be a reservoir host for the virus.

Is MERS-CoV dangerous?

Since more than a third of people who contract MERS-CoV die, it is a cause for concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that it ‘does not seem to pass easily from person-to-person’ although most cases have been contracted from another patient – usually after close contact. NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel says that the risk to travellers in the Middle East is very low.

Where do cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome occur?

About 85% of MERS-CoV cases occur in Saudi Arabia, but cases have occurred in other parts of the Middle East, including:

  • Egypt
  • Iran
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen

There have been cases outside the Middle East, but these are linked to travel in the region.

What are the symptoms of MERS?

The symptoms of Middle East respiratory syndrome are:

  • cough
  • fever
  • shortness of breath

Pneumonia may also occur, and gastro-intestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea are reported, too.

Certain groups of patients, such as older people, those with damaged immune systems or an underlying health problem, are at greater risk of a more severe form of MERS-CoV that causes respiratory failure.