MERS-CoV in the WHO European Region

Since September 2012, 15 laboratory-confirmed cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection, including 7 related deaths, have been reported by 8 countries in the WHO European Region (Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom). Most of the cases were imported and did not result in further spread of the virus: in only 3 cases, secondary transmission occurred to family members or other contacts. The last case was reported in Germany in March 2015.

The risk that another traveller infected with MERS-CoV will enter the European Region remains. Every day, many people travel between Europe and the countries that are currently reporting MERS-CoV cases. 

Laboratory capacity to detect MERS-CoV, treatment facilities equipped with isolation wards and arrangements for contact tracing along with consistent application of adequate measures to prevent infection and other public health actions are all crucial in order to obviate or mitigate transmission.

WHO recommends that European countries be highly vigilant

WHO encourages all countries in the European Region to be vigilant, strengthen their surveillance for acute respiratory infections, especially among travellers returning from the Middle East and the Republic of Korea, and carefully review any unusual patterns. WHO/Europe stands ready to support countries in assessing their capacity to respond to MERS-CoV and to provide technical assistance to scale up preparedness. 

Adherence to infection prevention and control measures in health care settings

Identifying patients with MERS-CoV early is difficult, because the symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory infections. In order to mitigate the risk for transmission to people who might be exposed to MERS-CoV (health care workers treating a MERS-CoV-infected patient), strict adherence to infection prevention and control measures is vital. Health care workers caring for patients with probable or confirmed MERS-CoV infection should use precautions against contact and droplets – medical mask, eye protection, gown and gloves – in addition to standard precautions.

Public health advice to travellers

Travellers to and from currently affected countries should receive public health advice on MERS-CoV. 

  • Travellers to affected countries, particularly people with pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly, should avoid close contact with animals, especially camels, and follow strict hygiene measures, such as regular hand-washing. 
  • People should avoid drinking raw camel milk or camel urine or eating meat that has not been adequately cooked.
  • Travellers back to Europe should report any acute respiratory illness to medical staff during 2 weeks (incubation period) after their return and inform the staff about their recent travel. Eliciting a travel history from patients with severe respiratory disease is crucial for detecting cases.

WHO does not recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions or entry screening related to MERS-CoV.