Umrah Pilgrims

Umrah pilgrims are being urged to take extra precautions after a spate of Mers cases in Saudi Arabia.

Health authorities recommended that those travelling to Saudi Arabia should consult their physician two weeks beforehand to check their health and pick up advice on how to avoid infection.

There have been 34 cases of Mers in Saudi Arabia since May 15, although many of those cases were confined to one hospital in Riyadh.

Dr Sawsan Al Nahas, specialist registrar for Dubai Health Authority, said big gatherings such as Umrah and Haj increase the chances of diseases being spread.

“Since there isn’t a vaccine for Mers, precautions are very important. To spread, Mers needs very close contact [between the carrier and victim],” said Dr Al Nahas.

She recommended regularly washing hands, using chemical sanitisers, and wearing a mask during rituals in crowded areas. She also said pilgrims should avoid sitting near people who were sick and never to share prayer mats.

“The immunity levels of people who have infectious diseases or chronic diseases are low and they can have complications,” she said.

In past years, there have been outbreaks of meningitis, meaning vaccines for this disease are compulsory before travel. Influenza also spreads through coughing and a vaccine is recommended.

Diabetics, pregnant women and those who have chronic diseases are most likely to suffer complications, Dr Al Nahas said.

Dr Fatma Al Attar, head of international health regulation at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, said many people required health treatments after falling ill during pilgrimage.

She said: “Upper respiratory tract infections, heat exhaustion, injuries, gastroenteritis and pneumonia are the most common health problems affecting pilgrims.”

She was less concerned about the threat from the Zika virus.

“Zika isn’t a threat for pilgrims because the mosquito that spreads it is not in the UAE or Saudi Arabia,” she said. Although she added that the possible spread of the disease would be monitored among pilgrims.

“There have been no cases of Mers from Haj and Umrah, but we have to take precautions. Personal hygiene is very important,” Dr Al Attar said.

“Because of the awareness campaigns, most people know and they consult family physicians. Advice needs to be tailored and people who have chronic diseases need to ensure they have their medication with them,” she said.

In case someone falls sick during Umrah, they should seek help from doctors in Saudi Arabia. A list of names of doctors will be provided to travellers

Because of the hot weather, pilgrims were also advised to take precautions to avoid heat stroke or dehydration.

“Pilgrims should avoid direct sunlight for a long time and use an umbrella whenever possible,” Dr Al Attar said. “They need to remember to drink plenty of water. It’s better if they do hectic activities after sunset because it’s very hot in the day.”