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MERS-CoV and travelling to the Arabian Peninsula

Advice for Mecca pilgrims

Given the recent sporadic cases of infection with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), occurring mainly in the Arabian Peninsula, and in view of the pilgrimages during Umra (the start of the month of Ramadan) and Hajj (after the Ramadan Month), the Belgian health authorities wish to raise your awareness of new developments related to the MERS-CoV.

To persons in whom a co-morbidity (a.o. cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, respiratory or renal insufficiency, etc..) was established, it is recommended to consult the treating physician or a specialized Travel Clinic prior to a journey to Saudi-Arabia, Qatar, Jordan or the United Arab Emirates.

The Saudi Ministry of Health recommends that the following people planning to come for Hajj and Umra this year, postpone the performance of the Hajj and Umra for their own safety:

  • People aged over 65 years
  • Those with chronic diseases (e.g. heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, diabetes)
  • Pilgrims with immune deficiency (congenital and acquired)
  • Pilgrims with malignant and terminal illnesses
  • Pregnant women
  • Children aged under 12 years

To reduce the risk of respiratory infection, the traveler to the Arabian Peninsula should:

  • Practice frequent hand washing with soap and water (and/or with an alcohol-based hand cleaner).
  • Make sure that all food is properly/sufficiently cooked/boiled.
  • Peel raw fruits and vegetables
  • Not drink/use unsafe (tap)water
  • Be aware of the risk of respiratory infection in crowded conditions and mass gatherings.
  • Try to avoid close contact with persons who are ill.
  • Practice ‘cough hygiene’: sneezing or coughing into a tissue and promptly discarding it safely.

Travelers who develop fever, cough or respiratory symptoms in the first two weeks upon return from the Middle East, must seek medical advice as soon as possible.

When ill, people should:

  • Keep their distance from others.
  • Cover nose and mouth with a disposable tissue while sneezing or coughing.
  • Dispose of the tissues in a dustbin (with lid).
  • Wash their hands frequently.

The Belgian hospitals are all well familiar with the risk factors. They are able to diagnose correctly and provide adequate care.

The above advice is mainly based on a circular (July 14, 2013) from the Belgian Federal Health Department, Food Chain safety and Environment.

General advice for Mecca pilgrims - required/recommended vaccines

  • Vaccination with a tetravalent, conjugated ACYW135 meningococcal vaccine is required to obtain a visa.
    Available vaccines in Belgium: Nimenrix® and Menveo®
  • Incompletely vaccinated individuals should update their vaccine status.
  • Vaccination against the seasonal flu is recommended when available (around mid-September, the pilgrimage starts October 4th).
  • Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended, depending on age and medical history.
  • For journeys exceeding 3 weeks stay, a vaccination against typhoid fever may be advisable.


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