UK health authorities warn Hajj pilgrims about viral respiratory illness

UK health authorities have warned this years’s Hajj pilgrims to be aware of the risks of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) say that large gathering 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 detailed travel health advice for pilgrims attending the Hajj here.

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

The likelihood of infection with MERS-CoV among UK residents traveling to the Middle East is very low and no travel restrictions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are currently advised in relation to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

However, to minimize 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 hygiene measures.

UKHSA recommends all pilgrims to follow the following advice:

  • 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 e.g., faeces and urine.
  • Avoid drinking raw milk or eating raw or undercooked meat or animal products that have not been thoroughly cooked.

And while abroad, or on returning home to the UK, pilgrims returning from Hajj and Umrah should look out for symptoms of fever, coughing, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

If these symptoms occur whilst attending the 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 the Middle East, it is crucial they promptly contact their GP or NHS 111, mentioning their recent travel history.

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 well-being throughout your travels.”


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