25 October 2013

​NSW Health is urging people returning from Saudi Arabia after the annual Hajj pilgrimage to look out for symptoms of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Jennie Musto, Acting Director of the Communicable Disease Branch said that MERS coronavirus is a new virus that causes a severe respiratory disease.

“While there have been no cases of MERS-CoV in Australia, there is a risk of people contracting the infection while in the Middle East and then returning to Australia. This has already occurred in other countries including France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Tunisia”, Ms Musto said.

More than 2 million Muslims made the pilgrimage to the Hajj including thousands of Australians.

“Since September 2012, 121 of the 139 MERS-CoV cases have been reported from Saudi Arabia, including 51 of the 60 deaths,” Ms Musto said. “So far there have been no cases reported in pilgrims during the Hajj but it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to develop”, she said.

Most cases have occurred in vulnerable people with underlying conditions that may make them more likely to get complications from respiratory infections.

“NSW Health recommends that anyone experiencing fever, cough or breathing difficulties within 14 days of their return from the Middle East to seek immediate medical attention from their GP or local Emergency Department and mention that they’ve recently visited the region” Ms Musto said.

More information on MERS-CoV can be found on the NSW Health website at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/MERS-coronavirus.aspx​​