Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic diseases have been advised to postpone their pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in November amid concerns that there may be a swine flu outbreak.
According to Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics, Saudi authorities are satisfied that they are taking every necessary precaution to avoid any swine flu outbreak among pilgrims.
And, not a single death from swine flu (H1N1) has been recorded among pilgrims of the Umrah, or lesser pilgrimage, which is undertaken at any time of the year. Nevertheless experts are advising those most at risk from the virus to avoid the Hajj for now.
Vincent says that the Saudi authorities are insisting that all pilgrims be vaccinated against normal seasonal flu and against H1N1 when the vaccine becomes available. Pilgrims from all over the world have to be vaccinated two weeks prior to being granted a Hajj visa.
Local vaccine ‘sufficient to get a visa’
The H1N1 vaccine is expected to become available in the USA and UK by late October, but it is not certain when it will be accessible in South Africa. The pilgrimage is between 25 November and 29 November 2009. About 5 000 South Africans are expected to go.
Northern Hemisphere seasonal flu vaccines are not available in South Africa, but the Southern Hemisphere version will be sufficient to obtain your visa. Vincent says the latter may provide protection against a couple of the common strains of flu viruses that are doing the rounds in the Northern Hemisphere.
Twenty-six Saudis are recorded to have died from swine flu. The Saudi authorities have placed an order for four million doses of H1N1 vaccines when they become available.
This will be used to immunise the local population and not the pilgrims. However the Saudi’s have allocated ‘Resources with no ceiling’ for the coming Hajj. Be sure to check which vaccinations are required and that you can produce the necessary vaccination certificates to prove that you have complied with all of the requirements before leaving on pilgrimage, advises Vincent.
It will not only help to ensure that you stay well while away, but could save you from a lot of heartache if you are not cleared by the relevant authorities for your trip.
Do not hesitate to contact your nearest Netcare Travel Clinic should you have any queries or questions regarding travel-health related topics. You may also visit our website on www.travelclinic.co.za or email firstname.lastname@example.org. – (Press release from Netcare Travel Clinics, October 2009)
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