Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a severe disease that affects your airways and breathing. Find information about MERS, what the symptoms are and how you can help protect yourself and your loved ones from severe illness.

About MERS

MERS is a rare but severe disease caused by MERS-coronavirus (MERS-CoV). It can cause severe breathing problems and, in extreme cases, death. 

MERS is a zoonotic disease, meaning it spreads from animals to people. It is thought to spread through close contact with camels, camel products or an infected person.

There have been no cases of MERS in Australia to date.


People with MERS can be asymptomatic (have no symptoms) or have mild to severe symptoms. Symptoms usually start 5 to 6 days after infection. However, this can range from 2 to 14 days.

MERS symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • muscle pain
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • nausea.

If you develop symptoms while travelling, especially in the Middle East, get medical help straight away. Don’t wait until you return to Australia to see a doctor.

If you have recently returned from overseas or have been in contact with a case and experience any of these symptoms, seek medical advice immediately. Tell your doctor you have been travelling or have been exposed to an infected person.

Who is most at risk?

Some people are at greater risk of severe illness from MERS, including:

  • older people
  • people with immunocompromise
  • people with a chronic disease.

If you are at risk of severe illness from MERS, speak to your usual health professional before travelling. You should also avoid all contact with camels in the Middle East.


There is no vaccine against MERS, but you can help protect yourself in other ways. 

If you live in, or are planning to travel somewhere with MERS cases, you can help protect yourself by:

  • avoiding contact with camels
  • avoiding contact with infected people
  • avoiding raw, undercooked or unpasteurised camel products, including meat, urine and milk
  • washing your hands regularly with soap and water, particularly before eating or after touching animals.


MERS can be diagnosed by testing a swab taken from the back of your throat or fluid from your lungs.


MERS originated in the Arabian Peninsula, with the first human case identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Every person who has been diagnosed with MERS since has lived in, travelled to, or can be linked to a case from the Middle East.

If you are planning to travel to a country with confirmed MERS cases, it’s important that you have all the recommended travel vaccines. You should also research where to seek urgent medical care if you get sick. 

Countries with confirmed cases of MERS include:

  • Bahrain
  • Iran
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • Yemen.

For the latest updates and information on countries with confirmed cases of MERS visit the World Health Organization.

If you have returned from an area affected by MERS, you should:

  • Tell your flight crew or a staff member at your port of arrival if you feel unwell when you arrive in Australia.
  • See your doctor immediately if you feel unwell with MERS symptoms, especially if you have a weakened immune system.
  • Be vigilant for symptoms for at least 14 days after leaving the MERS affected area, as symptoms can take this long to develop.

Find more information

For more information about MERS visit the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

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