The Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) want to remind people travelling to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to seek health advice before making the journey to help ensure a healthy trip.
The Hajj is the largest annual international gathering with more than two million Muslims travelling from around the world. Around 25,000 are expected to travel from the UK for this year’s Hajj, which is taking place from 24-29 October. A large population from around the world confined to one area has historically increased the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, in particular meningitis and respiratory infections.
Dr Jane Jones, a travel-associated infection expert at the HPA, said: “As this year’s Hajj is now less than a month away, it is really important that pilgrims seek medical advice and make sure they comply with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health entry requirements for Hajj, which includes a valid certificate of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis (ACW135Y). Vaccinations should be completed at least two weeks prior to departure to ensure their effectiveness”.
Dr Brian McCloskey, head of the HPA’s WHO collaborating centre for mass gatherings, added: “There is no current change in travel advice for people travelling to the Hajj in the light of two confirmed cases of novel Coronavirus recently associated with the Middle East. Travel advice will be kept under review and pilgrims will be updated accordingly”.
The HPA commissions NaTHNaC to provide travel health advice and a full list of recommendations for travel to Hajj can be found on their website. The HPA and NaTHNaC’s top tips for pilgrims to enjoy a safe Hajj include:
- Ensure your routine vaccinations are up to date, including measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), and polio.
- Have a valid certificate of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis ACW135Y without which you will be unable to obtain a visa.
- Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health recommends seasonal influenza vaccine for all pilgrims. This is particularly important for those with pre-existing medical conditions, pregnant women and those aged 65 years or older
- Take a basic medical kit, including self-treatment for diarrhoea and an adequate supply of regular prescription medicines.
- Obtain comprehensive travel insurance.
- Stay well hydrated, wear sunscreen, and seek shade when possible. Some rituals may also be performed at night to avoid daytime heat.
- At the end of Hajj when Muslim men shave their heads, they must be aware that unclean shaving blades can transmit blood-borne viruses, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Pilgrims should not share shaving blades and should seek licensed barbers using disposable blades at officially designated centres.
Claire Wong, a specialist travel health nurse at NaTHNaC said: “As well as the recommended and required vaccinations prior to Hajj, all pilgrims should receive advice on other ways of protecting their health. Daytime temperatures in Saudi Arabia, even during the winter months, can reach over 30°C, which can cause sunburn, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Pilgrims should ensure that they drink plenty of clean water, preferably bottled or boiled and cooled, to avoid dehydration, and use sunscreen and an umbrella to protect against sun damage.”
Notes for editors:
- The full list of advice and recommendations from NaTHNaC can be found at http://www.nathnac.org/travel/factsheets/Hajj_Umrah.htm [external link]
- Further advice and information about travel to the Hajj can be obtained from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/your-trip/hajj-pilgrims [external link]
- The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013 the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: www.hpa.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk.
- NaTHNaC is commissioned by the Health Protection Agency and hosted by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It works in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency to achieve its objective of improving standards in travel medicine.
- NaTHNaC provides evidence-based advice and guidance for health professionals and travellers in the UK. On the NaTHNaC website [external link] there is country-specific health information linked to a searchable database of global disease outbreaks. There are detailed reports called clinical updates on high impact global health events, and a wide variety of health information sheets on infectious and non-infectious travel-related health risks.
- For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.
Last reviewed: 3 October 2012