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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Hajj

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Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a rare but severe respiratory illness. It is spread through close contact with camels, camel products, or an infected person.

The annual Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj, will take place from 14 to 19 June 2024. It is anticipated that approximately 2,000 Australians will travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to participate this year.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness with a high fatality rate (approximately 36%), caused by MERS coronavirus. Saudi Arabia is experiencing ongoing clusters of MERS, with 84% of cases worldwide reported from this region.

Dromedary camels are thought to be the primary source of infection in humans, through direct or indirect contact with the camels and raw camel products (e.g., uncooked meat and milk). The virus does not easily spread in the community, and person to person spread of the virus has predominantly occurred in healthcare settings and within households.

People with existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease are at a higher risk of becoming very unwell or dying due to MERS. This includes the elderly, the immunocompromised and those with comorbidities.

There is no vaccination against MERS, however, travellers should ensure they are up to date with all recommended vaccinations, including for COVID-19, measles, and influenza. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health has specific vaccination requirements for Hajj pilgrims travelling from other countries, these can be found can be found on their website.

All travellers should know how to avoid infection. Travellers can protect themselves from MERS by:

  • avoiding close contact with sick people and sick animals
  • washing hands regularly and taking particular care when visiting places where animals are present
  • avoiding consuming raw or undercooked camel products, such as meat, urine, and milk, and
  • particularly for people with existing health problems, avoiding all contact with camels.

A MERS information card is also available at in multiple languages. The card provides information on how to protect themselves from MERS, and what to do if they feel unwell while overseas or on return to Australia.

The Department of Health and Aged Care maintains MERS information for health professionals on its website.

Health professionals should remain vigilant for signs of MERS in returned travellers and ensure suspected cases are managed appropriately. MERS is a nationally notifiable disease, so all suspected, probable, and confirmed cases should be reported to the appropriate state or territory public health unit.

Management guidelines for MERS coronavirus in general practice

Information about MERS for health professionals

MERS Information Card