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Travel advice for pilgrims to Mecca (Hajj)

If you intend to make the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), allow sufficient time for vaccination before you travel. Take precautions with food, water and hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming ill on the journey.

Illustrasjonsfoto, muslimer i bønn
Illustrasjonsfoto: Colourbox.com

You should still follow the advice concerning the outbreak of the coronavirus, MERS-CoV, which is caused by a virus from dromedary camels. If you have an underlying medical condition, consult your doctor to check if travel is advisable. Pilgrimages can be physically challenging and is important to be in good health prior to travel. The same advice applies to Umrah although there are fewer people gathered here.

General travel advice and recommendations for pilgrims travelling from Norway

During the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj/Umrah), millions of people will be gathered in a limited geographical area with basic living conditions. In previous years, there have been outbreaks of infectious diseases during Hajj, for example, meningococcal meningitis. 

Vaccination 

  • For everyone over 2 years Saudi health authorities require vaccination against meningococcal meningitis (ACWY). An international vaccination certificate must be shown upon arrival in Saudi Arabia. The certificate must state that the vaccine given in Norway is a conjugate vaccine that protects against serogroups A, C,W and Y and as well as the name of the vaccine. Saudi Arabia requires that the vaccine must be given at least 10 days before arrival, and no later than 3 years for the polysaccharide vaccine and 10 years for the conjugate vaccine. 

  • The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that pilgrims should be vaccinated against seasonal influenza. Vaccination is particularly recommended for those with an increased risk of developing severe disease or death from influenza (risk groups). The seasonal influenza vaccine for 2017/2018 is available from September/October but the influenza vaccine for the southern hemisphere is available and can be ordered with special exemption.
  • Special rules apply for additional vaccination when arriving in Saudi Arabia from some African and Asian countries.
  • Some people may also need the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Everyone should be vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and polio. Adults who have previously had the vaccine shuold receive a booster dose every 10 years.

Hygiene 

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or hand disinfectants, particularly before eating or preparing food and after using the toilet.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands when out in public.
  • Use a paper handkerchief in front of your mouth to protect others when you cough or sneeze. Dispose after use then wash your hands.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow if no handkerchief is available.
  • Avoid direct contact with infected people (with symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, vomiting or diarrhoea) and their posessions.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene.


Food and water 

  • Use caution when eating at food stands. Avoid meat that is not thoroughly cooked, or unpasteurised milk (particularly camel milk).
  • Drink bottled water.
  • Make sure that fruit and vegetables are thoroughly washed with clean water before consumption.
  • Only sealed / canned foods or foods in small packages available for inspection can be brought into Saudi Arabia.

If you become ill on the journey

  • Bring a first aid kit with sufficient amounts of regular medication, and treatment for diarrhoea. Extra liquid intake is recommended to compensate for dehydration due to diarrhoea and/or sweating. Salts for oral rehydration solutions are available from pharmacies.
  • If you feel ill during your stay, seek help from available health professionals.
  • Avoid mixing with people if you have diarrhoea or influenza-like symptoms to avoid spreading disease to others.
  • Have valid travel insurance.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

In 2012, a new type of coronavirus was discovered in the Middle East. The virus can cause an acute respiratory infection. The elderly or people with underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung diseases, cancer or an impaired immune system can become seriously ill. In many cases, the virus has caused outbreaks in health institutions. The disease is called MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and studies show that dromedary camels are the source of the virus. The virus can be transmitted between people, mainly to people who are in close contact with infected persons. New cases are regularly reported from Saudi Arabia. In June 2017 there was an ongoing outbreak of MERS in a hospital in the Riyadh region. There is an increased risk of infection if admitted to hospital in the area.

No travel restrictions have been introduced for the countries where MERS is reported. The World Health Organization (WHO) is not advising against travel to the region.

People with underlying medical conditions (e.g. chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic lung disease or an impaired immune system) are more vulnerable to develop severe disease if infected by the MERS-virus. WHO recommends that they should consult their doctor before travel, to consider whether or not to make the pilgrimage and that people with acute, severe respiratory infection with fever and cough should postpone their journey. People who become ill on the journey with significant respiratory symptoms should postpone travel to their home country.

The Saudi authorities are also advising some groups to postpone the pilgrimage. These include people over 65 years, people with chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, renal diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes, immune failure) as well as seriously ill patients, children under 12 years and pregnant women.

  • Avoid contact with animals, particularly camels. The source of infection for MERS is most probably dromedary camels. You should avoid contact with these animals when traveling to the Middle East. Avoid drinking milk or urine from camels and do not eat meat that is not thoroughly cooked. Other animals can be carriers so it is recommended to avoid general contact with animals.

  • Hygiene measures. Good hand hygiene is an important preventive measure for yourself and others. 

  • Vaccine. There is no vaccine or preventive medicine against MERS. 

    If you become ill on your journey, contact local medical personnel. Avoid coughing on others and practise good hand hygiene to avoid affecting others.

On your return

Hajj and Umrah can be physically exerting for many, and some people will experience stomach complaints or respiratory problems on their return. It is particularly important to consult your physician if you develop symptoms of severe respiratory problems within two weeks of your arrival. Symptoms include cough, fever, chest pain and breathing difficulties. People with underlying medical conditions who become ill after returning from the Middle East (not just pneumonia) should also consult a doctor. Ring first and tell your doctor where and when you were travelling and that you have been on Hajj or Umrah.

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