Persons planning to make the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, from approximately October 13 to 19, are being asked to take a number of health precautions.

The Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia has issued recommendations and requirements for persons planning to perform the Hajj this year. This action is in keeping with the International Health Regulations and is supported by the Ministry of Health, Barbados.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) is a respiratory illness that has affected a number of people in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Global statistics indicate that to date, there have been 94 laboratory confirmed cases of the illness and 46 deaths.

Saudi health officials recommend that vulnerable groups and individuals such as persons over age 65; children under 12 years old; pregnant women; persons with chronic diseases (heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, diabetes); persons with weakened immune systems and those with cancer and terminal illnesses should postpone their plans for Hajj this year.

The virus that causes MERS-CoV is spread from person to person through close contact. Symptoms include acute respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Travellers to the Middle East who develop symptoms during their stay or after their return are encouraged to seek medical attention and to share their travel history.

Persons making the pilgrimage are advised of the following requirements for entry visas into Saudi Arabia: Proof of vaccination with the quadrivalent vaccine against meningitis, issued not more than three years previously and not less than 10 days before travel. The Ministry of Health also recommends vaccination against seasonal influenza before making the trip.

Travellers are also reminded to contact their health care provider for the polio vaccine or call the Winston Scott Polyclinic at 227-7700 to make arrangements well in advance of their travel date.

The Ministry has advised travellers to take the following hygiene precautions which should lower the risk of infection: Wash hands frequently with soap and water; or use alcohol-based hand sanitisers; use disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose of the tissue in a waste basket; drink water that you have boiled for at least three to four minutes. Other safe beverages include tea and coffee made with boiled or treated water, as well as drinks that have been bottled and sealed (such as bottled water, carbonated drinks, and sports drinks).

Further precautionary measures include: avoiding putting ice in drinks; eating only foods that have been thoroughly cooked and are still hot or fruit that you have peeled yourself; not eating undercooked or raw fish or shellfish; making sure all vegetables are cooked; avoiding consumption of salads or other raw vegetables; maintaining good personal hygiene and refraining from eating foods or drinking beverages from street vendors. Additionally, the Ministry of Health has advised persons not to bring food, especially seafood, back to Barbados.

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