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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

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General information

In September 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the discovery of a novel coronavirus. This virus has been named the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). MERS-CoV is a serious respiratory disease with common symptoms in patients that include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. Most patients have had pneumonia. Some patients present with gastrointestinal illness prior to the onset of respiratory symptoms. About half of people infected with MERS-CoV have died. The virus has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact. It can also spread from infected patients to healthcare personnel. No travel warnings or restrictions have been issued related to MERS-CoV. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending surveillance and testing for individuals who have unexplained severe respiratory illness and a history of travel to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries. These countries include: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen*.

Information for health professionals

  • Interim Local Health Departments MERS-CoV investigation short form 
  • Testing for novel coronavirus
    At present, PCR testing of specimens for the novel coronavirus is available in Wisconsin only at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) and also at the CDC. Currently available diagnostic tests for other corona viruses are not suitable for detecting this new virus.

    To increase the likelihood of detecting MERS-CoV, CDC recommends collection of specimens from different sites--for example, a nasopharyngeal swab and a lower respiratory tract specimen such as (induced) sputum, bronchoalveolar lavage, bronchial wash, or tracheal aspirate. Lower respiratory tract specimens should be a priority for collection and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. In addition, stool specimens should be collected but are of lower priority. The Wisconsin Division of Public Health will approve test requests to be performed at the WSLH if a patient meets the criteria described below.

Case Definition
Patient under investigation (PUI)

  • A person with an acute respiratory infection, which may include fever (≥ 100.4F) and cough;

  • Suspicion of pulmonary parenchymal disease (e.g., pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome based on clinical or radiological evidence of consolidation)

  • History of travel from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries* within 14 days prior to illness onset.

  • For testing information, please call:
    Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene Clinical Customer Service 800-862-1013

    Note: Because of the need for immediate implementation and strict adherence to infection control guidelines, the Wisconsin Division of Public Health recommends that patients who meet the case definition of PUI, regardless of whether another etiology is suspected or lab confirmed, be tested for the MERS-CoV. This recommendation differs from that of the CDC.

    Thomas Haupt, Influenza Surveillance Coordinator
    Wisconsin Division of Public Health 
    Bureau of Communicable Diseases
    Phone 608-266-5326 | Fax 608-261-4976

    Last Revised: August 20, 2014