If your travel plans include a trip to the Korean peninsula, you might want to rethink. A recent outbreak of MERS-CoV, or Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (also known simply as MERS) has increased the need for travel precautions to this region. Here is what you need to know about MERS and travel to South Korea.

Location restrictions

While SmarTraveller still lists the safety threat to Australians visiting the Republic of Korea as minimal, it urges Australians to understand the risks associated with travelling to and from South Korea. As of 10 June 2015, SmarTraveller has issued this statement:

“There have been a number of confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the Republic of Korea. Some meetings have been postponed and some schools have temporarily closed as self-initiated precautionary measures. Screening is now in place for passengers arriving from affected countries in the Middle East. Australians planning to visit or transit ROK by air from MERS-CoV affected countries should be aware that individuals who display symptoms of MERS-CoV such as fever or elevated temperature, will be subject to further testing by ROK health authorities (see Health). The level of the advice has not changed. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in the Republic of Korea (ROK).”

Special precautions may apply to travellers who have recently visited other MERS-affected countries or who exhibit the symptoms of MERS.

MERS symptoms

According to the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the MERS virus is a relatively-new illness. The first reported case occurred in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. MERS is usually spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. Common symptoms of MERS are fever, cough and shortness of breath. The incubation period for the virus is typically 5-6 days, but may last up to 14 days, meaning it could be two weeks after you contract the virus that you begin exhibiting symptoms. People with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and chronic lung, heart and kidney disease may be more likely to become infected by MERS. Roughly 30-40 percent of all MERS cases have resulted in death since 2012.

Travel considerations

Should you cancel travel to the Republic of Korea? It depends on your circumstance. If you have recently visited a MERS-affected country or you have a pre-existing medical condition, it might be safest to reschedule plans. If not, consider the implications on your travel insurance policy and track travel restrictions carefully use our World Events and Claims Advice page to keep up-to-date with major travel restrictions. Purchase cancellation cover in the event situations become more serious, and if travelling remember to purchase international travel insurance with medical coverage you are comfortable with. Exercise caution and use your best judgment when travelling.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Arun Ganesh.