Public Health England (PHE) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) are urging all Hajj pilgrims to ensure they are aware of the latest advice on the ongoing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in the Middle East.
The annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), known as the Hajj, is expected to take place from 21 to 26 September 2015, with many pilgrims travelling from the UK.
Risk of MERS infection to UK residents travelling to the Middle East is low and the World Health Organization, PHE and NaTHNaC do not currently advise any travel restrictions to KSA in relation to the ongoing outbreak.
However, the KSA Ministry of Health recommends that certain groups postpone the performance of the Hajj and Umrah as a precautionary measure again this year. This recommendation applies to:
- elderly people
- those with chronic diseases (heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, nervous system disorders and diabetes)
- individuals with congenital or acquired immunodeficiency
- pregnant women and children
In KSA, cases of MERS-CoV occur throughout the year, with occasional peaks. Recently there has been a marked increase in cases reported from KSA, particularly from Riyadh.
Dr Richard Pebody, Head of Respiratory Diseases at PHE said:
There is growing evidence of the possible role of camels in transmitting MERS-CoV to humans. We advise travellers, particularly those with underlying or chronic medical conditions, to avoid contact with camels and camel products in the Middle East and 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 returning from the Middle East, should call their GP and inform them of their recent travel.
Dr Dipti Patel, Joint Director of NaTHNaC, said:
Our information sheet for pilgrims includes information on health regulations, vaccine requirements and recommendations, and other 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.
- Umrah is a shorter, non-compulsory pilgrimage for Muslims that can be performed at any time.
- Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
- General travel health advice for travellers going to Saudi Arabia is available from NaTHNaC’s website TravelHealthPro
- See PHE’s information on MERS-CoV