Coronaviruses are a large and diverse family of viruses that include viruses that are known to cause illness in humans (including the common cold) and animals. However, in 2012, the MERS (for “Middle East respiratory syndrome”) coronavirus (also known as MERS-CoV) was identified as a new type of coronavirus that could cause a rapid onset of severe respiratory disease in people. Many of the cases have occurred in people with underlying conditions that may make them more likely to get respiratory infections. All cases of human infection with MERS-CoV identified to date have been in people who lived in or travelled to the Middle East, or who have had close contact with people who acquired the infection in the Middle East.
Though the animal to human route is not fully understood, dromedary camels are a major host for MERS-CoV, and direct or indirect contact with an infected animal may lead to transmission. Human to human cases are limited so far, but have occurred among family members, patients, and healthcare workers in very close contact. A majority of cases of the virus have been transmitted in healthcare settings before MERS-CoV was diagnosed.
Typical symptoms present as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, symptoms can range from nonexistent to severe acute respiratory disease. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Diarrhea has been reported. There is no specific treatment or vaccine for MERS-CoV. Treatment is based on the condition and needs of the patient.
When visiting farms, markets, or barns where dromedary camels may be present, follow general hygiene procedures such as washing hands before and after touching animals and avoid contact with sick animals. Animal products, including camel meat and milk, should be properly handled with pasteurization, cooking or other heat treatments before consumption to avoid organisms carried in raw or undercooked meat.