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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Frequently Asked Questions

Last reviewed October 11, 2017
Last updated October 11, 2017

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus MERS-CoV.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (ministry) has developed additional FAQs on this situation as it relates to the people of Ontario. The ministry has also developed general information on MERS-CoV and Guidance for Health Workers and Health Sector Employers on MERS-CoV..

What is the latest update on the MERS-CoV situation?

The MERS-CoV situation continues to evolve, as new human cases are being reported. For the most up to date information on the MERS-CoV situation, visit the WHO's website.

What is the risk of MERS-CoV to the people of Ontario?

There have been no reports of human illness in Canada associated with MERS-CoV. Public Health authorities consider the public health risk to Canada to be low at this time.

Has anyone in Ontario or Canada been infected with MERS-CoV?

To date, there are no reports of anyone in Ontario or Canada being infected with MERS-CoV.

What is MERS-CoV?

MERS-CoV is an abbreviation for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause a range of illnesses in humans from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Coronaviruses also cause a number of animal diseases.

MERS-CoV is a new coronavirus that has not been seen in humans before 2012. This particular coronavirus is rare but can cause serious illness.

What are the symptoms associated with MERS-CoV?

Usual symptoms have included fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported. Some individuals with laboratory-confirmed infection were reported as not having any symptoms. From what is known about the disease so far, people with pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly may be more likely  to develop serious illness. About 35% of reported patients with MERS-CoV have died although there is some uncertainty about this percentage.

Is MERS-CoV the same as the SARS virus?

No. MERS-CoV is not the same coronavirus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, both the SARS virus and the MERS-CoV are the same type of viruses (coronaviruses) and are both similar to coronaviruses found in bats.

What is the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care doing about MERS-CoV? Has the ministry alerted health workers and health sector employers to the MERS-CoV situation?

The ministry is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Health Ontario and the Ministry of Labour to gather and analyze information on this situation and to prepare for the possibility of cases in Ontario.

The ministry has released guidance on MERS-CoV for health care workers and health sector employers with information about screening, laboratory testing, treatment recommendations and appropriate occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control measures. The ministry will continue to share information with its health system partners and the public and continue to take appropriate actions as necessary.

What should health care workers do if they suspect a case?

The ministry has provided health care workers with guidance on what to do if they suspect one of their patients has MERS-CoV, including laboratory testing and reporting recommendations as well as appropriate occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control measures.

Can MERS-CoV be detected by laboratory tests in Ontario?

Yes. The Public Health Ontario Laboratory has the capability to detect MERS-CoV.

What is the recommended treatment for cases?

At this time, there is no specific treatment targeting the virus. However, many of the symptoms caused by this virus can be treated and therefore treatment should be based on the symptoms of the patient. As part of its guidance on MERS-CoV, the ministry is recommending that health care workers refer to guidance from the WHO and Public Health England for more information about treatment approaches.

What should health care workers tell patients who are awaiting test results for MERS-CoV and are not hospitalized?

The ministry has developed a fact sheet entitled Preventing MERS-CoV from Spreading to Others in Homes and Communities to support health care workers to provide guidance and information for patients who are awaiting test results, or patients who have MERS-CoV, and who do not need to stay in a hospital.

What happens if a Person under Investigation for MERS-CoV is identified on an airplane?

The Public Health Agency of Canada's Office of Border Health Services is involved in the reporting and case management of arriving or departing international passengers who may be a person under investigation for MERS-CoV.

Is the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care recommending that health care workers take any special precautions to protect themselves against MERS-CoV?

The ministry has provided health care workers and health sector employers with guidance on occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control measures for MERS-CoV. As part of this guidance, the ministry is recommending that health care workers use Routine Practices and Additional Precautions (Contact, Droplet and Airborne) if they are at risk of exposure to a person under investigation, probable case or confirmed case and/or the patient's environment. These precautions include:

  • hand hygiene
  • use of airborne infection isolation rooms when possible;
  • masking the patient with a surgical mask when outside of an airborne infection isolation room;
  • use of gloves, gowns, fit-tested, seal-checked N95 respirators and eye protection by health care workers when entering the same room as the patient or when transporting or caring for the patient.

The use of Airborne Precautions is a higher level of precaution than is being recommended by PHAC or the WHO, or that is normally recommended for coronavirus. The ministry is recommending that health care workers apply Airborne Precautions based on its application of the precautionary principle to this novel virus for which little information about transmission and clinical severity is available.

Who is responsible for providing health care workers with personal protective equipment?

Health sector employers are required, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to ensure that workers are provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them from workplace hazards, including the MERS-CoV. Employers must ensure PPE that is to be provided, worn or used is properly used and maintained, is a proper fit, is inspected for damage or deterioration and is stored in a convenient, clean and sanitary location when not in use.

Are health workers required to use personal protective equipment?

Workers must use PPE required by the employer. A worker who is required by his or her employer or by O. Reg. 67/93 to wear or use any protective clothing, equipment or device is required to be instructed and trained in its care, use and limitations before wearing or using it for the first time, and at regular intervals thereafter. Workers are required to participate in such instruction and training provided by the employer. Employers covered by the O. Reg. 67/93 are required to, in consultation with the Joint Health and Safety Committee (or Health and Safety Representative, if any), develop, establish and put into effect written measures and procedures regarding the use, wearing and care of PPE and its limitations.

What should health care workers do if they are concerned they may have had unprotected exposure to a person under investigation for MERS-CoV as part of their work duties?

Health care workers may continue regular activities, and may wish to contact the Occupational Health and Infection Prevention & Control professionals in their workplace or their employer if they are concerned about unprotected exposure to a person under investigation for MERS-CoV. If they develop symptoms of an acute respiratory illness, they should follow relevant workplace policies and procedures. If the person under investigation becomes a confirmed or probable case, the Occupational Health and Infection Prevention & Control professionals will conduct a risk assessment to determine the appropriate next steps for exposed health care workers.

Workplace parties should review the exposure incident for gaps and opportunities for improvement in occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control practices.

What should health care workers do if they are concerned that they may have had unprotected exposure to a confirmed or probable case of MERS-CoV as part of their work duties?

Health care workers should contact the Occupational Health and Infection Prevention & Control professionals in their workplace or their employer if they are concerned about unprotected exposure to a confirmed or probable case of MERS-CoV.

Health care workers who have been exposed to a case as part of their work duties in the last 14 days and develop symptoms of acute respiratory infection should not come to work. They should report their health status to the Occupational Health and Infection Prevention & Control professionals in their workplace or their employer.

Workplace parties should review the exposure incident for gaps and opportunities for improvement in occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control practices.

Is it safe to travel to countries in the Middle East that have reported confirmed cases of MERS-CoV?

PHAC has posted a Travel Health Notice for Canadians planning travel. The notice provides general suggestions for how individuals can reduce their risk of being exposed to MERS-CoV in countries in the Middle East that have reported cases, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, such as being careful about the type of food or water consumed, avoiding contact with wild and farm animals and avoiding close contact with people who are ill with respiratory symptoms.

Further information MERS-CoV on this website

This information does not relieve employers from their legislated obligations.

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