MERS virus and the Hajj in Saudi Arabia

The World Health Organization convened the 10th meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee to review the latest information on the transmission of the MERS virus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus) in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At present, there continue to be sporadic cases in Jordan and UAE, but for many weeks, there has been a major hospital-based outbreak of the disease in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

While the Committee concluded that there was no change in the risk of international spread of this virus, it was concerned about the overall MERS situation, specifically, the recurrence of outbreaks in hospitals, the spread of the virus to humans from infected camels and on-going sporadic cases in the community. With millions of people participating in the Hajj pilgrimage this month, there is some risk of travellers becoming infected and returning home to spread the virus.

Advice For Travellers

The MERS virus causes a serious pneumonia with a high mortality rate, especially in older persons with pre-existing medical conditions. To minimize any risk of exposure during the Hajj pilgrimage or any other visit to Saudi Arabia, travellers should wash their hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer; avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth; and avoid close contact with sick people. Travellers should also avoid contact with camels, camel milk or camel urine at farms, markets, barns, or other places where camels are present.