Hajj pilgrims warned of illness
Thursday 10th October 2013, 1:21PM BST.
People who are unwell should not make the trip to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, health experts have warned.
Public Health England (PHE) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre said those wishing to travel should check the latest health advice following cases of respiratory illness caused by the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
In July, elderly Muslims were told not to take part in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca because of the Sars-like virus.
Pregnant women, children under the age of 12, or people who suffer from chronic illnesses should also abstain, according to advice from the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia.
Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at PHE, said today: “The potential for spread of infectious diseases associated with mass gatherings is well recognised.
“Hajj, the annual mass gathering of over three million Muslims from all over the world, presents challenges every year, but particularly this year as we are continuing to receive reports of cases of MERS in the region.”
Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy secretary general at the Muslim Council of Britain, said thousands from the UK were expected to make the journey.
He said: “Advice issued by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health recommended that the elderly, those with chronic diseases, pregnant women and children postpone the performance of the Hajj for their own health and safety.
“People who have decided to go on Hajj this year and are unwell before travelling are being advised not to travel.”
Dr Dipti Patel, joint director of the National Travel Health Network and Centre, said: “While there are no travel restrictions to the Middle East and the risk to travellers remains very low, the Saudi Arabian ministry of health has advised vulnerable people and children who may have been planning to travel to the Middle East to perform the Hajj to postpone their pilgrimage for their own health and safety.
“Other people should continue with their plans but follow the specific guidance on the Hajj and other general advice about staying safe and healthy when travelling, including practising good personal hygiene.
“It’s very important that anyone who does become ill while making the pilgrimage urgently reports to the health authorities, so they can receive appropriate treatment and avoid spreading illness to others.”
In May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said MERS-CoV is a ”threat to the entire world” and the disease is ”emerging faster than our understanding”.
Three people have died in the UK as a result of the infection – including one man who died at the end of June.