NY Travel Clinic

Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) cases in the Republic of Korea

On June 5, 2015 the CDC reported that there have been 36 confirmed cases of Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS or MERS-CoV) in the Republic of Korea, and they were linked to healthcare facilities.The respiratory disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia three years ago.


The disease is caused by a coronavirus and causes shortness of breath, fever, chills, headache, nausea and vomiting, and a non-productive cough.  The disease can also cause dizziness, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.In some cases, diarrhea precedes respiratory symptoms.  MERS-CoV infection can also be asymptomatic.  There can be a progression to pneumonia within 5 days of infection.  The incubation period ranges from 2 to 14 days, with a median of 5 days.

Prevention and treatment

There is no vaccine available against MERS, and the syndrome can be fatal.  Prevention is based on good hygiene.  You should wash your hands with soap, or an alcohol-based sanitizer.  Avoid contact with people who are sick.  Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unclean hands.  Cough or sneeze into tissues, or your sleeve.  If you develop a fever, and a cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after travel to a healthcare facility in the Republic of Korea, advise your doctor.

If you will work as a healthcare worker in the Republic of Korea be warned that droplet precautions must be added, and  contact precautions and eye protection too if you will care forpatients with probable or confirmed MERS-CoV infection.

The WHO states: “It is not always possible to identify patients with MERS-CoV early because like other respiratory infections, the early symptoms of MERS-CoV are non-specific.”

There is no treatment, except managing the complications.  If you will travel to the Republic of Korea, you should have a pneumonia vaccine to prevent this complication.

Since September 2012, there have been 1185 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 443 related deaths worldwide.

If you have to travel to the Republic of Korea, be aware of potentially infected people near you.  Practice excellent hygiene, and call a doctor as soon as you have diarrhea, or a cough or shortness of breath, or a fever.  If you feel sick after you travel home, call your doctor before you go the clinic to warn of your travels and symptoms.