Hajj pilgrims urged to prioritise respiratory hygiene measures


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The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) are reminding Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to be aware of the risks of MERS-CoV and other general hygiene safety measures when travelling to the Middle East.

Large gatherings such as Hajj and Umrah are associated with unique health risks and travellers should practise good general health measures, such as regular hand washing with soap and water, to reduce the spread of infections. NaTHNaC provides travel health advice for pilgrims attending Hajj.

MERS-CoV is a respiratory virus which causes fever, coughing and shortness of breath. It is primarily spread from animals, particularly camels, to humans, but can also spread from person to person.

The likelihood of infection with MERS-CoV among UK residents travelling to the Middle East is very low and no travel restrictions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are currently advised in relation to MERS-CoV. However, to minimise the risk of contracting MERS-CoV or any other respiratory infections including COVID-19, all travellers – particularly those with long-term medical conditions – should practise good general health measures, such as regular hand washing with soap and water, especially after visiting farms, barns or market areas in the Middle East.

UKHSA advises all pilgrims to:

  • wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially after coughing and sneezing, after using toilets, before and after handling food and before consuming food, and after touching animals; soap and water should be used if hands are visibly soiled or if you have diarrhoea
  • use disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose of used tissues in a wastebasket
  • consider wearing a face mask in crowded places
  • avoid close contact with people who appear ill and avoid sharing their personal belongings
  • avoid contact with camels in farms, markets or barns, including animal waste, for example faeces and urine
  • avoid drinking raw milk or eating raw or undercooked meat or animal products that have not been thoroughly cooked

While abroad, or on returning home to the UK, we urge pilgrims from Hajj and Umrah to look out for symptoms of fever, coughing, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If these symptoms occur while attending Hajj or Umrah, pilgrims should seek help from medical facilities there.

Additionally, if individuals develop any of these symptoms within 14 days after leaving the KSA or Middle East, it is crucial for them to promptly contact their GP or NHS 111. They should also mention their recent travel history and any contact with people with respiratory symptoms, healthcare facilities and camels.

Dr Richard Puleston, lead for MERS-CoV at UKHSA, said:

Travellers are strongly urged to refrain from contact with camels and consuming camel products while in the KSA or the Middle East, and to prioritise maintaining proper hand and respiratory hygiene to reduce the risk of infections spreading.

For individuals returning from Hajj and Umrah, if you experience symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath within 14 days of leaving the KSA or the Middle East, please contact your GP or NHS 111 without delay and inform them about your recent travel history.

Dr Dipti Patel, director of NaTHNaC, said:

Our comprehensive information sheet for pilgrims provides valuable details regarding health regulations, vaccine requirements, recommendations, and general health advice for those embarking on Hajj and Umrah journeys.

Please follow our specific guidance to ensure your safety and wellbeing throughout your travels.

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