Travel Warning: Will MERS Be Another SARS?

It’s called MERS. And for those who remember the SARS epidemic that hit its peak in 2003, it’s never too early to hoist the warning flag, particularly for international travellers planning trips to the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Europe this summer.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who contract the MERS-CoV infection may develop severe acute respiratory illness, fever, cough, shortness of breath, or kidney failure. Significantly, most of the transmission of the virus occurs from person to person.

According to The Associated Press, of the 313 people who have contracted the MERS virus in Saudi Arabia since September 2012, 92 have died, including five in just one recent day. Worldwide, there have been 350 cases reported, of which more than 100 have died from the virus. Most of the cases have just been reported in the past few months, suggesting that the incidence of MERS is increasing rapidly.

Related: Want Up-to-Date Travel Warnings? Stay with Travel Insurance File

Speaking to Canadian travel health insurers at their annual conference on April 24th, Dr. Kamran Khan, infectious disease specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, warned that the spread of diseases, such as SARS in 2003, was greatly facilitated by international travel. He showed how airline traffic patterns can be predictive of how and where highly infectious diseases might strike next.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has issued this advisory, along with tips and instructions to help all Canadians travelling not only to the Middle East, but to Europe as well.

Visit the Government of Canada’s travel health and safety site (scroll down to “Recommendations”), as it contains valuable information about how to minimize your risk of contracting, and perhaps transmitting, the MERS virus.

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