In 2018, over 2.3 million pilgrims from around the world visited Mecca during Hajj.1 Due to the event’s huge size and limited geographical location, Hajj presents unique health risks. Pilgrims are advised to check the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia website for health requirements and recommendations. These are released each year ahead of Hajj. Read on for some travel information for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage, and consult your GP for further medical advice ahead of your trip. Additionally, having comprehensive travel and medical insurance is recommended before departure.
Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can lead to inflammation of membranes in the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and blood infection (septicaemia). In 2000 and 2001, two large outbreaks of meningococcal serogroup W135 affected pilgrims in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and internationally, as well as some of their families.2
To get a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health requires that visitors have the tetravalent meningococcal vaccine, protecting against serogroups A, C, W and Y. This must be at least 10 days, and no more than 3 years, before arrival for the polysaccharide vaccine, and at least 10 days, and no more than 5 years, before arrival for the conjugate vaccine.3
Your routine immunisations should be up to date – including those that protect against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and polio. Vaccination against seasonal flu is recommended and consider getting the hepatitis B vaccination too.
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. It was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, with the country reporting approximately 80% of cases globally.5
As a preventative measure, regularly wash your hands with soap and water or a disinfectant, and avoid contact with animals. Avoid camels in particular, including their milk and meat. Evidence suggests that infection could occur through direct or indirect contact with infected dromedary camels.6
Pilgrims should be physically fit, as the level of exercise required can be taxing on the body. Consult your GP 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. In the case of certain health problems, consider delaying your travel.
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.
Avoid contaminated food and water supplies as well. You can reduce your risk of infections and conditions such as travellers’ diarrhoea by thoroughly washing any fresh vegetables and fruit, and avoiding:
It‘s important to keep hydrated by drinking enough liquids during your pilgrimage and avoiding long exposure to direct sun.
To protect against blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV, use disposable single-use shavers or a personal razor – and don’t share your razors with others.7 You may also want to check that barbers and hairdressers wash their hands thoroughly before shaving and hair cutting.
Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is recommended, as well as visiting your GP ahead of your trip.
Date of preparation: April 2019
1. General Authority for Statistics – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: www.stats.gov.sa/en/28
2. Memish ZA, Venkatesh S, Ahmed QA. Travel epidemiology: the Saudi perspective. Int J Antimicrob Agents 2003; 21(2): 96–101.
3. Ministry of Health – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: www.moh.gov.sa/en/hajj/pages/healthregulations.aspx
4. WHO – International Travel and Health: www.who.int/ith/ith-country-list.pdf
6. Haagmans BL, Al Dhahiry SH, Reusken CB, Raj VS, Galiano M, Myers R. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in dromedary camels: an outbreak investigation, Lancet 2014; 14(2):140–145.
7. Fit for Travel – Hajj and Umrah Pilgrimage: www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/general-travel-health-advice/hajj-and-umrah-pilgrimage
All accessed April 2019.