29/07/2013 - Permalink

Advice for people planning trips to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and Hajj

Related topics: Community / Health

News from our partners Public Health England 

Public Health England (PHE) in the West Midlands area is advising pilgrims to take the necessary precautions before, during and after travelling to Saudi Arabia, in order to have the best chance of staying healthy. 

PHE, NaTHNaC (National Travel health Network and Centre) and the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH) work closely together, and are reminding people planning to perform Umrah or Hajj (which falls between 13 and 15 October this year, 2013) to check the latest health guidance, as further advice has been issued in the light of the on-going cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). 

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) is not currently advising travel restrictions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in relation to MERS-CoV, in addition to the usual health recommendations the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia has recommended the following groups postpone the performance of Umrah and Hajj this year for their own safety: 

  • people over 65 years of age
  • those with chronic diseases such as heart, kidney or respiratory disease; diabetes, immune deficiency, cancer and terminal illnesses
  • pregnant women and children under 12 years of age. 

Dr Huda Mohamed, health protection consultant for PHE West Midlands, said:

“Many Muslims in the West Midlands will be planning to travel to Umrah during July, which is the month of Ramadan, and later in the year to perform Hajj.  A large population from around the world confined to one area has historically increased the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, in particular diseases such as polio, influenza, hepatitis B, meningococcal disease and yellow fever, so pilgrims must get the most current travel advice and keep their vaccinations up to date.

“We also advise people to postpone travel if they are unwell or have chronic conditions like heart, kidney, respiratory diseases or diabetes.  While people are abroad they should make sure they keep well hydrated, eat properly, get adequate rest, protect themselves from heat and sun, and practice good hand hygiene.  People who return to the UK feeling unwell and who get progressively worse should call their GP or NHS 111 for advice. 

“In February 2013 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection was diagnosed in a Birmingham resident who had travelled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia 10 days before falling ill.  Two further cases occurred among family members who had not travelled, and sadly two of the people died. 

“Following this tragic event, the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH) contacted Public Health England (PHE) for advice to help safeguard the health of travellers. PHE also works closely with WHO (the World Health Organization) and KSA (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), to ensure that messages to travellers across the world are all within current guidelines.  At this time, the advice from Saudi Arabia is that elderly people, those with chronic conditions, immunity deficiency, as well as children and pregnant women, should postpone pilgrimage for Umrah and Hajj in 2013.”

Anybody travelling from the West Midlands to Saudi Arabia can get the latest travel advice by visiting: http://nathnac.org/travel/factsheets/Hajj_Umrah.htm

Further information 

  1. Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector.  PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website www.gov.uk/phe and follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk.  
  2. The National Travel Health Network and Centre, NaTHNaC, was created to promote clinical standards in travel medicine with the broad goal of Protecting the Health of British Travellers.  It does this by improving the quality of travel health advice available to GP practices and other healthcare providers.  NaTHNaC was created by the Department of Health in 2002 and is now commissioned by Public Health England (PHE). 

For the latest travel advice from NaTHNaC visit: http://www.nathnac.org/travel/index.htm

General travel health advice for travellers to Saudi Arabia is available from NaTHNaC. 

  1. The Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH) is a national charity working to help protect the welfare of British travellers and Hajj/Umrah pilgrims. For more information visit: www.abhuk.com
  2. Advice for travellers about MERS CoV – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. 

This is a new strain of Coronavirus first identified in 2012, formerly known as ‘Novel Coronavirus’.  Little is known about how the virus is spread, its severity and its health effects, as only a small number of cases have been reported so far.

General advice concerning MERS-CoV: 

  • People travelling to the Middle East and congregating in large groups are at risk
  • The West Midlands has a high number of people who will want to go on pilgrimage therefore some residents may return home with MERS-CoV
  • People with underlying medical conditions are particularly at risk of infection
  • People returning from pilgrimage feeling increasingly unwell should call their GP or NHS 111. 

Pilgrims should take steps to safeguard their health: 

  • Wash hands well with soap and water or other disinfectants, especially after sneezing
  • Use tissues when coughing or sneezing and cover mouth and nose, if no tissues are available, it is preferable to cough or sneeze on top of the arm
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with hands, as viruses can be transmitted
  • Wear gags in gatherings and overcrowded places during Umrah or Hajj
  • Where possible, avoid contact with infected people and see doctor when necessary
  • Keep other hygienic and healthy habits such as food balance, physical activity, sleep. 
  1. Vaccine requirements and other infections linked with pilgrimage: 
  • Meningococcal disease – proof of meningitis ACWY vaccine required
  • Polio – babies and children up to 15 require polio vaccine record
  • Yellow fever – valid International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis needed
  • Influenza – easy to catch in a crowd, vulnerable people should have annual flu jab
  • Hepatitis B – can result from emergency medical/dental treatment or shaving 
  1. Other health issues related to pilgrimage: 
  • Accidents and injuries – especially due to stampedes and mass activities
  • Cold – taking appropriate clothing and bedding for cold evenings
  • Food and water hygiene – risk of diarrhoea and stomach upsets
  • Sun and heat – risks include dehydration, sunburn, heat exhaustion/stroke
  • Insect spread diseases – some risk of malaria or dengue fever
  • Respiratory illness – many pilgrims get ‘Hajj cough’ so observe ‘cough hygiene’
  • Insurance – ensure adequate travel insurance
  • Medication and medical history – ensure good supply of medicines/prescriptions
  • Medical kits – all pilgrims should take basic kit
  • Physical fitness – importance of understanding physical demands of pilgrimage
  • Women’s health – avoiding menstruation and advice if pregnant. 
  1. For more information about MERS-CoV visit PHE’s dedicated webpages.