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MERS-CoV electron micrograph3.jpg
By Cynthia Goldsmith/Maureen Metcalfe/Azaibi Tamin –, Public Domain,

OpenStax Microbiology

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are two acute respiratory infections caused by coronaviruses. In both cases, these are thought to be zoonotic infections. Bats and civet cats are thought to have been the reservoirs for SARS; camels seem to be the reservoir for MERS.

SARS originated in southern China in the winter of 2002 and rapidly spread to 37 countries. Within about 1 year, more than 8,000 people experienced influenza-like symptoms and nearly 800 people died. The rapid spread and severity of these infections caused grave concern at the time. However, the outbreak was controlled in 2003 and no further cases of SARS have been recorded since 2004. Signs and symptoms of SARS include high fever, headache, body aches, and cough, and most patients will develop pneumonia.

MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2013. Although some infected individuals will be asymptomatic or have mild cold-like symptoms, most will develop a high fever, aches, cough and a severe respiratory infection that can progress to pneumonia. As of 2015, over 1,300 people in 27 countries have been infected. About 500 people have died. There are no specific treatments for either MERS or SARS. In addition, no vaccines are currently available. Several recombinant vaccines, however, are being developed.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: