International SOS, the world’s leading medical and travel security risk services company, is offering medical guidance to members ahead of this year’s Hajj, which is likely to be one of the hottest of the past two decades.
In 2015 the Hajj will take place in the hotter summer months for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Each year’s Hajj is about 11 days earlier in the Gregorian calendar than the previous year’s pilgrimage. The timing of the Hajj is determined by the Islamic calendar, which is based on the shorter lunar year.
Dr. Issam Badaoui, Medical Director at International SOS, said:
“Our advice is closely aligned with that of the global health authorities – people who are healthy should be able to undertake Hajj. But there are always potential health risks associated with large gatherings of people. This year, pilgrims should be particularly aware of MERS Co-V, as well being sensible in what is likely to be very hot weather.”
Global health authorities have noted a recent resurgence of cases of MERS Co-V in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. MERS Co-V is a viral respiratory illness which was first reported in humans in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Between 30 and 40 per cent of patients who have contracted MERS Co-V have died, according to the Centres for Disease Control.
Dr. Badaoui gave the following advice to reduce the risk of contracting MERS Co-V and other communicable diseases:
- Pilgrims should maintain a high level of personal hygiene and wash hands frequently with soap and water.
- Keep a safe distance from people who are coughing, sneezing or appear to be sick.
- Contact with live animals and their environment should be avoided, particularly camels.
- Fruit and vegetables should be washed well. Meat should be thoroughly cooked and pilgrims should only choose dairy items from pasteurised milk.
- Pilgrims should only use registered barbers at officially designated centres, with disposable, single-use razor blades.
- Pilgrims should ensure their routine and mandatory vaccinations are up to date. All travellers are required to submit a certificate of vaccination with the quadrivalent meningitis vaccine in order to receive a Hajj visa. Some travellers also need to show proof of yellow fever or polio vaccination. Seasonal flu vaccination is recommended prior to travel.
Dr. Issam Badaoui continued:
“With average temperatures above 35.5 degrees centigrade in Makkah during September, pilgrims should also be aware of the potential health effects of heat. The body’s natural cooling mechanisms can fail if a person is exposed to high temperatures and humidity for too long, particularly if they do not drink enough water to replace fluids lost as sweat.
Heatstroke can quickly become a life-threatening emergency so it is vital that pilgrims are aware of the early signs of heat-related difficulties. If they or their friends experience these symptoms they should get out of the heat and hydrate. If the symptoms persist longer than a few minutes they should seek urgent medical help.”
Symptoms of heat-related illness include muscle cramps, irritability, confusion, heart rhythm problems, dizziness, nausea, vision problems and fatigue.
More health tips for pilgrims continued.
Dr. Badaoui noted that the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health has urged vulnerable groups to postpone their Hajj journey this year. These groups include those with chronic diseases such as cancer or heart disease, pregnant women, and those aged over 65 or under 12.