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Health warning for Hajj pilgrims

Following international disease outbreaks the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has urged certain groups to postpone their pilgrimage to Mecca.

Elderly people, those with chronic diseases (heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, nervous system disorders and diabetes), immunodeficient patients (congenital and acquired), pregnant women and children have been advised to postpone the performance of the Hajj, which is expected to fall between October 2-7, and Umrah as a precautionary measure this year, for their own safety.

Public Health England (PHE) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) have strongly urged everyone travelling for Hajj and Umrah to familiarise themselves with the all the latest health and travel advice and information for these pilgrimages, available on the NaTHNaC website.

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at PHE, said: “The Hajj is the largest annual international gathering, with more than two million Muslims travelling from around the world, including thousands from the UK. A large population in one confined area has historically increased the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, which is why it is important to get the relevant vaccinations and to get travel advice from your GP or travel health clinic.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not currently advise any travel restrictions to KSA in relation to the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and overall the risk of UK residents travelling to the Middle East contracting the virus remains low. However, cases reported from KSA continue to increase, to 846 by September 2014, and there have now been 298 deaths, occurring mainly among residents.

Professor Nick Phin, head of respiratory diseases at PHE, said: “With growing evidence indicating the role of camels in transmitting MERS-CoV to humans, we're advising all travellers to the Middle East, particularly those with underlying or chronic medical conditions, to avoid contact with camels and camel products, and to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene to reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses.
“Pilgrims returning from Hajj and Umrah with flu-like symptoms including fever and cough, or shortness of breath within 14 days of being in the Middle East, should contact their GP without delay and inform them of their travel.”
Pilgrims should also be aware this year that due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, visas will not be issued to individuals who have travelled or lived in Ebola affected countries within the three weeks before their applications. All visitors to the KSA will be required to complete an Ebola screening card before being allowed to enter the country.
In addition, the declaration by WHO of polio as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern has also led to additional vaccination requirements for arrivals in KSA from particular countries.
Dr Dipti Patel, joint director of NaTHNaC, said: “Our updated health information sheet for pilgrims includes information on health regulations, vaccine requirements, recommendations and general health advice for those planning to travel for the Hajj and Umrah.  Pilgrims are strongly advised to follow our specific guidance about staying safe and healthy when travelling.”