Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Since September 2012, WHO has been alerted under the International Health Regulations (IHR) to sporadic cases of infection with a novel coronavirus. This particular strain of coronavirus had not been previously identified in humans and the characterization of the full genome sequence of the virus indicates that it belongs to a novel species of coronavirus in the genus Betacoronavirus that is distinct from other known coronaviruses and SARS.

The Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses decided on 15 May 2013 to call the new virus Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). WHO strongly urges use of this name in scientific and other communications. 

The current understanding of MERS-CoV is that it can cause a severe, acute respiratory infection presenting as pneumonia.

Updates and guidance

Following confirmation of the novel coronavirus, WHO – under the IHR – immediately alerted all its Member States about the virus and has been leading the coordination and providing guidance to health authorities and technical health agencies. WHO/Europe will continue to provide input to all aspects of this response. In this way, more information on transmission, severity and clinical impact will be obtained and disseminated to Member States.

WHO/Europe in collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also conducted a rapid survey of laboratory capacities among Member States in the European Region. WHO has identified a network of laboratories that can provide expertise on coronaviruses for countries that do not have this capacity.

Coronavirus infections

Coronaviruses are a large family of ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses capable of infecting humans and a number of animal species. In humans, coronaviruses may cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Currently, 4 coronaviruses are known to circulate in the human population, HCoV-229E, -OC43, NL63, and –HKU1, where they usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illness. Viruses of this family cause a number of animal diseases.