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Vaccination guidance issued for Hajj pilgrims

Health professionals could see an influx of patients wanting vaccinations and medical advice before heading to Saudi Arabia for an annual pilgrimage, if they heed official advice.

Approximately 25,000 British Muslims will take part in the Hajj between 24 and 29 October. Given the numbers attending from around the world and the heat in Saudi Arabia, pilgrimage carries a risk of contagious diseases like meningitis and respiratory infections.

The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) have put together guidance for people making the trip to Saudi Arabia this month.

Specialist travel health nurse Claire Wong, from NaTHNaC, said travellers needed to make sure they had received all the recommended vaccinations for visiting that area and that they have had any necessary boosters to protect against illnesses like measles, mumps and rubella and polio.

But she said the pilgrims also needed to be given health advice  on protecting themselves in Saudi Arabia’s hot climate. She added that they should be told of the importance of drinking plenty of fluids, ideally water which is either bottled or has been boiled and then cooled, to reduce the risk of dehydration. Using sun protection and an umbrella to avoid sunburn and heat stroke should also be advised.

The flu jab is also advised by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia, particularly for pilgrims who are over 65, pregnant or have existing health problems. And all travellers should make sure they have comprehensive insurance, which would cover the cost of any medical treatment they might need during their trip.

Traditionally men shave their hair off at the end of the Hajj. Sharing razors can spread the HIV virus and other illnesses transmitted through blood including hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

For this reason, the HPA and NaTHNaC recommends advice is given about only going to barbers who use disposable blades to carry out the ritual.

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”.