Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a severe respiratory disease that is thought to be caught from contact with camels or camel products or from another person with MERS.
Approximately 3,000 Australians are expected to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the Islamic pilgrimage (Hajj) taking place from 9 August to 14 August 2019.
At this time, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to experience clusters of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), associated with infections in healthcare facilities and exposure to camels and camel products.
In previous years, there have been no cases of MERS associated with the Hajj. However, in times of increased travel to an area experiencing a disease outbreak or when there is a mass gathering like the Hajj, there is a possibility of diseases being spread.
There is no vaccine for MERS, however, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health has other vaccination requirements for Hajj pilgrims. These can be found in the "Health Requirements and Recommendations for Travellers to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah" on the WHO website. Routine vaccinations, including measles and influenza, are recommended for travellers by the Australian Government Department of Health. Travellers to Saudi Arabia for Hajj should consult their doctor at least one month prior to travel to discuss which vaccines are appropriate for them.
MERS can cause severe symptoms and death in some people. People with existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease (e.g. the elderly, those with a weakened immune system or those with other health conditions) may be at a higher risk of becoming very unwell or dying due to MERS. Travellers should consult their doctor before travelling to discuss the risks and decide whether travelling to the Middle East is appropriate at this time.
It is important for travellers to protect themselves from MERS by taking precautions to avoid close contact with sick people or animals. Wash hands regularly and take particular care when visiting places where animals are present. Avoid raw, undercooked or unpasteurised camel products, including meat, urine and milk. People with existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease should also avoid all contact with camels.
A MERS information card has been produced to assist travellers before and after travel. The card can be downloaded from the Department of Health website. Copies are available in multiple languages by emailing Human Biosecurity.