ABU DHABI // Muslims making the Haj this year have been warned to take the necessary vaccinations and health precautions before travelling.
The Saudi government has asked that pilgrims are vaccinated against meningitis and the seasonal flu at least two weeks before their trip to Mecca. This year the Haj season falls in the middle of October.
"It is important to be very cautious at this huge gathering," said Dr Fawad Khan, consultant of family medicine at Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
"Individuals will be prone to all sorts of illnesses and people are coming from all parts of the world where different infections are prevalent."
Dr Khan said pilgrims with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure should also take additional precautions, such as taking extra supplies of medicine and antibiotics, as well as a first-aid kit.
He said travellers to Saudi needed to be particularly cautious because of the deadly coronavirus Mers.
Last week a Saudi man died of the Sars-like virus, bringing the kingdom's death toll to 42.
"It is a cause for concern," said Dr Khan.
Because of the risk, the Saudi government has recommended that vulnerable people, including the elderly, terminally ill, those that were pregnant, and children under the age of 12, postpone their plans for the Haj and Umrah this year.
Vaccines are freely available for pilgrims at public hospitals across Abu Dhabi.
Salma Al Nuami, nursing director at Abu Dhabi Ambulatory Healthcare Services, said there were three vaccines available for Haj travellers: the meningococcal vaccine, the seasonal influenza vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine.
She said pilgrims should also follow general advice such as hand hygiene, drinking lots of water, carrying a first-aid kit, and to protect themselves from sunstroke or heat exhaustion.
A full list of the healthcare centres offering the free vaccines can be found at www.haad.ae.
Next week the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) is rolling out its own Haj awareness campaign on the precautions people need to take before and during the trip.
The DHA has stocked up on vaccines required for pilgrims across its 14 health centres.
The awareness campaign will be launched from September 12.
"The aim of the campaign is to provide health information to pilgrims about the do's and don'ts when they undertake this pilgrimage," said Dr Ahmad bin Kalban, chief executive of primary health care at the DHA.
"Simple precautions can protect their health and that's the message we want to advocate through this campaign."
Dr Kalban said the DHA would also distribute health educational booklets.
Dr Fatima Al Attar, head of preventive services at the DHA, said it was imperative that all pilgrims followed basic personal hygiene to protect themselves.
"Behavioural interventions such as hand hygiene, cough etiquette, social distancing, using your own prayer mat and contact avoidance can be effective at mitigating health risks including respiratory illness among Haj pilgrims," Dr Al Attar said.
Travellers who develop colds, coughs, or any other health problems should seek immediate medical help, she added.