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MERS - The New SARS - Travel Warning

Updated on October 10, 2015

What is the new SARS virus?

This new virus, called MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome - Coronavirus), is a new variety of SARS.

SARS (Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome) first appeared in China in 2003, prompting worldwide travel warnings and scares. SARS infected 8000 people worldwide, killing 775.

MERS and SARS are coronaviruses, a large family of viruses that includes the common cold.

MERS is said to have come from species of European and African bats which may have infected another species of animal which in turn passed the virus on to humans. Scientists do not yet know a great deal about MERS.


Who has been infected with MERS and where has it spread to?

As of 19 June 2013, 49 people have been infected and 34 of them have died.

All of the infected people were either in, or traveled to, Jordan, Qatar or Saudi Arabia or caught MERS from someone who has traveled through those countries. To date, MERS has been found in France, the United Kingdom of Britain, The United States (suspected) and Germany.

Many of those infected were older men with some sort of health complication. The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not yet know why this is so.

Is there is cure for MERS?

There is no effective treatment for MERS at this stage other than the usual symptoms based treatments for any cold or virus.

There is no vaccine as yet specifically for the virus. Anti-viral drugs are ineffective against MERS.

Contact with an infected person of longer than 15 minutes can result in the virus being passed on.

The World Health Organisation is recommending contact isolation to prevent contamination.

WHO is also recommending that health professionals wear masks, gloves and gowns when coming into contact with suspected cases.


Signs and symptoms

About 10 days after exposure, patients with MERS can present with:

  • vomiting and diarrhea (more likely in those who have prior health issues)
  • mild cold/flu like symptoms (more likely in those who are well and healthy)

The next stage involves:

  • fever
  • productive cough
  • difficulty breathing

This progresses to respiratory failure, multiple organ collapse and death.

Delays in developing a cure

Saudi Arabia has accused a foreign laboratory of obtaining an intellectual property patent on the new SARS-like virus which means that the development of tests to diagnose MERS virus will be delayed.

The Erasmus Laboratory, based in the Netherlands, took a sample of the virus 3 months ago before obtaining a patent on it. Saudi Arabian officials say the Erasmus Laboratory took the virus sample out of Saudi Arabia without permission.

Anyone else who wants to study the new virus will now have to pay Erasmus Laboratory.


Bird Flu

Interestingly, the development of MERS coincides with the appearance of a new strain of bird flu in China affecting about 130 people. These developments do not appear to be connected.

The new bird flu does is not as lethal as some past strains with 72 people confirmed recovered to date.

Re-think international air travel

Globalisation has revolutionised the way people in the world interact. The downside is the quick and easy spread of disease, particularly through international air travel.

Airports are places where masses of people from all around the world are in close proximity to each other. Air travel involves large numbers of people being confined to a small aircraft cabin spaces together, breathing the same air, for long periods.

It would be prudent to re-think any travel plans involving air travel, especially international travel, and definitely to the Middle East, until a vaccine or effective treatment is developed.


  • New SARS cousin finally has a name: MERS, Maggie Fox NBN News (16 May 2013),
  • WHO warns countries not to hoard secrets of coronvirus, Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay Reuters (24 May 2013),
  • Heres What Happens When You Get The New SARS-like virus MERS, Jennifer Walsh Business Insider Australia (17 May 2013),
  • New SARS-like virus suspected at New York Hospital, Avian Flu Talk (18 May 2013),
  • No new bird flu cases in China for a week, (21 May 2013),


Will the new SARS-like virus MERS stop you from traveling?

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    • Mel Jay profile image

      Mel Jay 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks FlourishAnyway, yes it seems that new SARS like viruses pop up every now and again. Globalization has its pitfalls...

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      I must've been hiding under a rock, because this is the first I have heard of this. Thanks for the information. I do think that with all the international travel, we exchange our germs with one another much more quickly than ever before.