Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

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, the 4 human coronaviruses (HCoVs) known to circulate widely in the human population – HCoV-229E, -OC43, -NL63 and -HKU1 – usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. Other known coronaviruses are SARS and MERS-CoV. They are zoonotic and can spread from animal to human and from human to human at close contact. In humans, these coronaviruses can cause a severe, acute respiratory infection often presenting as pneumonia.


Since September 2012, WHO has been alerted under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) to sporadic cases and occasional clusters/outbreaks of infection with a novel coronavirus, (MERS-CoV). 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.

Updates and guidance on MERS-CoV

WHO immediately alerted all its Member States about the novel coronavirus and has been leading the coordination of and providing guidance to health authorities and technical health agencies. 

A joint Republic of Korea-WHO high-level mission was undertaken in June 2015 with the aim of gaining information and reviewing the situation. The team has also assessed the public health response efforts and provided its recommendations.

The IHR Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General held its ninth meeting regarding MERS-CoV on 16 June 2015. The Committee concluded that the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern have not been met. WHO/Europe will continue to provide input to all aspects of this response, including participating in risk assessment, providing support to Member States that have had cases, supporting surveillance and laboratory capacities and disseminating information.

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