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Approximately 3000 Australians travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia each year for the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj).The Kingdom is still experiencing an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), associated with infections in healthcare facilities and exposure to camels and camel products.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and has a high fatality rate (approximately 35%). People with existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease (e.g. the elderly, the immunocompromised or those with comorbidities) are at a higher risk of becoming very unwell or dying due to MERS. Travellers are advised to consult their doctor before travelling to discuss the risks and decide whether travelling to the Middle East is appropriate at this time. Avoidance of infection should be discussed with all travellers.

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 and can be obtained by emailing humanbiosecurity@health.gov.au. The Department of Health also maintains MERS information for health professionals on their Department of Health website.

Health professionals should remain vigilant for returned travellers with possible MERS and ensure suspected cases are managed appropriately. All suspected, probable and confirmed cases should be reported to the state or territory public health unit. MERS-CoV is a nationally notifiable disease. 

[Source: Department of Health]

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