Advice for pilgrims visiting Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Hajj and Umrah)
Pilgrims are advised to note the followings
Vaccination against meningitis
The Saudi Arabia government requires all pilgrims on entry to produce a certificate of vaccination against the meningococcal disease using the quadrivalent vaccine (serogroups A, C, W135 and Y). The certificate should be not more than 3 years and not less than 10 days before arrival.
Vaccination against seasonal influenza
The Saudi Ministry of Health recommends that international pilgrims be vaccinated against seasonal influenza before arrival into Saudi Arabia, particularly those at increased risk of severe influenza diseases, including pregnant women, children under 5 years, the elderly, and individuals with underlying health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, and chronic heart or lung diseases.
Be Vigilant against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
Travellers should take note of MERS-CoV (formerly known as novel coronavirus). People may be infected upon exposure to animals (such as camels), environment or other confirmed patients (such as in a hospital setting). Infected persons may present with symptoms including fever, cough, and breathing difficulties. Most patients developed pneumonia.
Based on current information, MERS-CoV could be spread from person to person through close contact. Therefore, if you are travelling to the Middle East for vacation or pilgrimage, please observe personal and environmental hygiene strictly at all times such as washing hands before touching eyes, nose and mouth, and after sneezing, coughing or cleaning the nose. Travellers should avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products, including milk and meat, or foods which may be contaminated by animal secretions, excretions (such as urine) or products, unless they have been properly cooked, washed or peeled.
Travellers are advised to avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels; avoid contact with animals, especially camels (including riding camels or participating in any activity involving contact with camels), birds, poultry or sick people during the journey. Travellers should wash hands before and after touching animals in case of visits to farms, barns or markets. Travellers should also avoid close contact with sick people, especially with those suffering from acute respiratory infections, and avoid visit to healthcare settings with MERS patients.
Pilgrims should be reminded that pre-existing major medical conditions are more likely to develop severe infection for MERS if they are exposed to the virus; thus, pilgrims should consult a health care provider before travelling to review the risk and assess whether making the pilgrimage is advisable. For further advice from the Saudi Ministry of Health, please see (http://www.moh.gov.sa/en/Hajj/Pages/HealthRegulations.aspx)
Pilgrims should cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and wash hands after contact with respiratory secretions. If suffering from acute febrile respiratory symptoms, keep a distance of one metre with other persons. If travellers develop a significant acute respiratory illness with fever and cough (severe enough to interfere with usual daily activities) during Umrah or Hajj, they should:
- report to the medical staff accompanying the group or to the local health services;
- cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and discard the tissue in a lidded bin and wash hands afterwards, or, if this is not possible, cough or sneeze into upper sleeves of their clothing;
- avoid attending crowded places and preferably isolate themselves until the end of the respiratory symptoms and, if isolation is not possible, use a tissue for covering nose and mouth or a surgical mask when in crowded places.
Travellers who develop symptoms up to 14 days after their return from affected areas should put on face masks, seek medical attention and inform doctor of their travel history. Before departure, if you feel unwell, such as having fever, sore throat, muscle pain or cough, you are advised to seek medical attention and postpone the trip until recovery. For further information on MERS, please visit the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) website (http://www.chp.gov.hk).
Other infectious diseases
Updating immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases in all travellers is strongly recommended. With the recent resurgence of measles and rubella cases, special attention is needed for both of these vaccines to avoid widespread outbreaks with this virus during Hajj and Umra this year.
Men are required to shave their heads after Hajj, and unclean blades can transmit disease. Male pilgrims should go to officially designated centers to be shaved, where barbers are licensed and use disposable, single-use blades.
Fresh food carried by visitors and pilgrims are banned and not allowed into the country. Only properly canned food in very small amount which is enough for one person to the end of his or her trip is allowed. In addition, diarrhea is common during Hajj, so eat only food that is cooked and served hot and drink only beverages from sealed containers.
Try to avoid the most densely congested areas and always be aware of the location of emergency exits. Pilgrims can perform rituals during non-peak hours to avoid crowds.
Temperatures in Mecca can exceed 37.8 ºC (100°F) in October. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are leading causes of illness during Hajj. Pilgrims should drink plenty of water (bottled), wear sunscreen, rest, and seek shade as much as possible. Symptoms of heat-related illness can include profuse sweating, chills, headache, dizziness or confusion, and nausea. Travelers who develop these symptoms should move to a cool area and seek medical attention.
Observe personal and environmental hygiene strictly at all times. For more information, please read the section on Travel Health Advice.
(Source: World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & Ministry of Hajj, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)