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Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage 

The information provided is a summary that was up to date when this article was published; however, recommendations may be updated from time to time. Please always consult with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist well in advance of travelling. 

Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims believe should be undertaken at least once in their lifetime; it takes place from the 8th to the 13th day of the 12th month in the Islamic calendar. Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be completed at any time of the year; it’s not compulsory but is highly recommended in Islam.1

In 2019, over 2.4 million pilgrims from around the world visited Mecca during Hajj.2 Due to the event’s size and limited geographical location, Hajj and Umrah present unique health risks.3

As the requirements and recommendations may differ from year to year, it’s good practice to consult your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) has a dedicated webpage for Hajj and Umrah for further medical advice ahead of your trip.4 The NHS recommends having comprehensive travel and medical insurance before departure.1

Vaccinations

Required vaccinations for VISA purposes

Meningococcal disease

In 2000 and 2001, two large outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis affected Hajj pilgrims in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KOS).

The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health requires that visitors travelling to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj and Umrah season must have either the quadrivalent (ACWY) polysaccharide vaccine received within the last 3 years and not less than 10 days before arrival, or the quadrivalent (ACWY) conjugate vaccine within the last 5 years and not less than 10 days before arrival, as part of the visa requirements.4,6 Requirements may differ from year to year – make sure you regularly check the most up-to-date information from the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia.4,6

Poliomyelitis 

The UK is not at risk for the reintroduction of circulating wild or vaccine-derived poliovirus. However, if you’re travelling from a country where wild or vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV2) is prevalent or at risk of reintroduction, you’ll need a valid polio vaccination certificate. You can find specific polio vaccination requirements for the current Hajj/Umrah season from the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia.4,7

Yellow fever 

Currently, there is no risk of yellow fever in the UK. However, according to international travel and health guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), if you’re travelling from a country at risk of yellow fever, you’ll need to show a valid vaccination certificate. The certificate will only apply to UK pilgrims if they are travelling to the KOS via a yellow fever risk country. You can find additional information on specific yellow fever vaccination requirements for the current Hajj/Umrah season from the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia.4,7

Recommended vaccinations

The NHS advises that you check you are up to date with all the standard NHS vaccinations, as well as the specific vaccinations required for visa purposes.1 While you prepare for your pilgrimage, it’s good practice to check for other vaccine-preventable diseases that you may encounter on your trip.4

The following vaccine-preventable diseases have particular relevance to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims who have not been vaccinated against them before:4

  • Hepatitis B 
  • Rabies 
  • Seasonal Influenza 
  • Polio
  • Meningococcal disease

Other health risks

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)

MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. It was first identified in the KOS in 2012, with the country reporting approximately 80% of cases globally.8

There are a few preventative measures recommended by the NHS that you can take to reduce the risk of catching MERS.1 Examples of precautions consist of regularly washing your hands with soap and water or a disinfectant, and avoiding contact with animals, in particular camels, including their raw milk and not properly cooked meat1,9 – additional information on other health risks and precautionary measures that should be undertaken for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims can be found here.4

General physical fitness

Doctor holding stethoscope

The level of exercise required during Hajj and Umrah can be taxing on the body. NaTHNaC recommends checking with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you have any physical or medical concerns, as they will be able to advise you on how to manage your health problems while travelling. The KOS Ministry of Health recommends pregnant women and young children postpone the performance of Hajj as a precautionary measure. Those with severe medical conditions, such as terminal cancers, advanced cardiac, respiratory, liver, kidney diseases or dementia are exempt from these religious duties. 4,6

Food, water and personal hygiene

To reduce the risk of infections and disease, it is extremely important to look after your personal hygiene and wash your hands frequently – especially before and after eating, and after going to the toilet.

You can reduce your risk of infections and conditions such as travellers’ diarrhoea by thoroughly washing any fresh vegetables and fruit, and avoiding:4

  • Undercooked meat
  • Food prepared under unclean conditions
  • Food that’s been improperly stored

Get further advice on food and water precautions when travelling.

Heat exhaustion and sunstroke

It’s important to keep hydrated by drinking enough during your pilgrimage and avoiding long exposure to direct sun. The NHS advises to use sunscreen every day, even if it’s cloudy, and wear suitable clothing and sunglasses when the sun is at its strongest.1,10

Shaving and haircutting

Shaving and haircutting: Barber tools

To protect against blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV, the NHS advises using disposable single-use shavers or a personal razor, and not sharing your razors with others.1 You may also want to check that barbers and hairdressers wash their hands thoroughly before shaving and hair cutting.1

 

References

  1. NHS Fit for Travel. Hajj and Umrah Pilgrimage. Available at: www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/general-travel-health-advice/hajj-and-umrah-pilgrimage. Accessed October 2020.
  2. General Authority for Statistics – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Available at: https://www.stats.gov.sa/sites/default/files/haj_40_en.pdf. Accessed October 2020.
  3. Memish ZA, Venkatesh S, Ahmed QA. Travel epidemiology: the Saudi perspective. Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2003;21(2):96–101.
  4. Travel Health Pro. Hajj and Umrah. Available at: https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/factsheet/19/hajj-and-umrah. Accessed October 2020.
  5. Yezli S, Assiri AM, Alhakeem RF, et al. Meningococcal disease during the Hajj and Umrah mass gatherings. Int J Infect Dis. 2016;47:60–64.
  6. The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hajj and Umrah Health Requirements. Available at: https://www.saudiembassy.net/hajj-and-umrah-health-requirements. Accessed October 2020.
  7. Ministry of Health - Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hajj and Umrah Health Regulations. 2020. Available at: https://www.moh.gov.sa/en/Hajj/HealthGuidelines/HealthGuidelinesDuringHajj/Pages/HealthRequirements.aspx. Accessed October 2020.
  8. WHO. MERS-CoV. Available at: www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/middle-east-respiratory-syndrome-coronavirus-(mers-cov). Accessed October 2020.
  9. Haagmans BL, Al Dhahiry SH, Reusken CB, et al. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in dromedary camels: an outbreak investigation. Lancet. 2014;14(2):140–5. 
  10. NHS. Sunscreen and Sun Safety. Available at: www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/sunscreen-and-sun-safety. Accessed October 2020.

MAT-GB-2001914(v1.0) | October 2020