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Alternative names: Middle East respiratory syndrome

Type of infection: viral

Incubation period: 2 to 14 days

Mortality rate: 30%

Vector: possibly camels, but otherwise unknown


Of all the diseases listed in this book, MERS is likely the newest (and the one with the least solid information). It was first discovered in 2012 as a new form of flu in Saudi Arabia. Since then, it has spread to 22 other countries, though all cases have a connection to Saudi Arabia.

Though the disease has definitely gotten researchers attention, there are still many things we don't know about it.

Catching MERS

According to the World Health Organization, MERS does not move from person to person, but the CDC states that close contact can spread MERS. So far, it hasn't show any strong signs that it happens, so it is not like very contagious even if does happen occasionally.

The spread seems to be from an animal host reservoir in Saudi Arabia, which is why all cases seem to lead back to that country. Research is still ongoing at this point but the current theory is that the host is likely the camel.

Signs and Symptoms

Not everyone who contracts MERS has any symptoms at all, and they can be so mild that you just assume you have a cold. But unlike a cold, the symptoms can be more severe in some cases. There is a high fever, a persistent cough with a shortness of breath, and occasionally there is also diarrhea or vomiting. As the disease progresses, it can lead to pneumonia.


There is no established treatment for MERS, though antibiotics may be beneficial in the later stages to deal with an onset of pneumonia. Over-the-counter meds can be used to help bring down the fever.


Staying away from Middle Eastern camels seems to be a significant way of protecting yourself against MERS, but otherwise wear a mask when near any ill people and wash your hands after any direct contact.

Risk Assessment

Though travelers have brought MERS out of the Middle East and to countries like the USA and the UK, the fact that it doesn't easily spread person-to-person means that it's not a likely candidate for a local epidemic.

But, the kind of virus that causes MERS (a coronavirus) is very closely related to other coronaviruses that do spread easily from person to person. Mutations to allow easier transmission are possible.

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