What is the current situation?
The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is among the largest mass gatherings in the world. Hajj draws about 3 million Muslims from around the world, and more than 11,000 Americans make the pilgrimage each year. This year, Hajj will take place from approximately October 2–7, 2014. Umrah is a similar pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of the year.
Because of the crowds, mass gatherings such as Hajj and Umrah are associated with unique health risks. If you plan to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah, follow the recommendations below to help you stay safe and healthy.
What can travelers do to protect themselves?
Before your trip:
- Schedule a health appointment at least 4–6 weeks before you depart on your trip. Talk to your doctor or nurse about vaccines and medicines recommended for Saudi Arabia. See the Find a Clinic webpage for help in finding a travel medicine clinic near you.
- The Meningitis (Meningococcal disease) vaccine is required if you are traveling to Saudi Arabia to take part in a pilgrimage. See the Saudi Ministry of Health’s Health conditions for travelers to Saudi Arabia for the Umrah and Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)--2014
- The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak is ongoing in the Arabian Peninsula. CDC has issued a MERS travel alert with health recommendations to reduce your risk of infection.
- The World Health Organization has made the following recommendations:
- High-risk travelers (for example, people who have weakened immune systems or who have diabetes, chronic lung disease, or kidney failure) should review their risk with a doctor and consider whether the pilgrimage is advisable.
- People who develop respiratory illness while they are at Hajj should isolate themselves or, if isolation is not possible, wear a surgical mask around people.
- Travelers should avoid contact with camels, not visit farms, and not consume raw camel milk or urine or undercooked meat.
- In addition, for the 2014 Pilgrimage, the Saudi Ministry of Health recommends that the following groups postpone travel:
- People older than 65 years
- Children younger than 12 years
- Pregnant women
- People with chronic diseases (such as heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or respiratory disease)
- People with weakened immune systems or who take drugs that suppress the immune system
- People with cancer or terminal illness
- People traveling from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea because of Ebola outbreak in those areas (Saudi Arabia announced that they will not be issuing visas for this population.)
- The World Health Organization has made the following recommendations:
- CDC recommends all travelers be up-to-date on routine vaccines, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and influenza.
- Other recommended vaccines may include hepatitis A, typhoid, hepatitis B, and rabies.
- Medicine for malaria and travelers’ diarrhea may be recommended.
- Consider purchasing travel health and medical evacuation insurance.
- Pack a travel health kit.
- Monitor travel warnings and alerts and read travel tips from the US Department of State.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) .
- Leave a copy of your itinerary, contact information, credit cards, and passport with someone at home.
During your trip:
- Follow security and safety guidelines. Hajj is the largest mass gathering in the world.
- Avoid the most densely congested areas, perform rituals during nonpeak hours, and be aware of emergency exits. Stampedes at previous Hajj events have injured or killed hundreds, most recently in 2006. However, the Saudi government has spent more than $25 billion to help thin crowds and minimize this risk. Saudi religious authorities have also expanded the times when certain rituals can be performed.
- Carry a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp.
- Carry the contact information for the nearest US embassy or consulate in Saudi Arabia and local emergency service numbers.
- Follow all local laws and social customs.
- Follow food and water safety guidelines: Eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated water can cause illnesses such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and travelers’ diarrhea. Read about how to prevent these diseases by visiting the Safe Food and Waterpage. Beware of food from street vendors, ice in drinks, and other foods and drinks that may be contaminated and cause travelers’ diarrhea.
- Prevent mosquito bites and use insect repellent: Diseases spread by mosquitoes are a risk in Saudi Arabia. Read more about ways to prevent bug bites by visiting the Avoid Bug Bitespage.
- Follow guidelines for hot climates: Dehydration and heat-related illnesses are common during Umrah and Hajj. Temperatures in Mecca can easily exceed 100°F in the summer and early fall. Drink plenty of (bottled!) water, keep cool, and wear sunscreen. Read more about how to prevent these conditions by visiting the Travel to Hot Climates and Sun Exposurepages.
- Use disposable, single use blades for head shaving: Men are required to shave their heads after Hajj (many men shave their heads after Umrah as well), and unclean blades can transmit disease. Male pilgrims should go to officially designated centers to be shaved, where barbers are licensed and use disposable, single-use blades.
- Avoid swimming in fresh water—lakes and rivers. Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection that can be spread in fresh water that may cause serious health problems. It is a low risk in Saudi Arabia but still known to be present.
- Choose safe transportation: Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of healthy US citizens in foreign countries. Read about ways to prevent transportation injuries by visiting the Road Safety page.
- Reduce your exposure to germs:
- Wash your hands often.
- If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who are sick.
- If you feel sick during your trip—
- Talk to a doctor or nurse if you feel seriously ill, especially if you have a fever.
- For more information about medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad and a list of International Joint Commission-accredited facilities.
- Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.
After your trip:
- If you are not feeling well after your trip, you may need to see a doctor. If you need help finding a travel medicine specialist, see Find a Clinic. Be sure to tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. Also tell your doctor if you were bitten or scratched by an animal while traveling.
- For more information, see Getting Sick after Travel.
- Health Information for Travelers to Saudi Arabia
- Saudi Arabia Information from the US Department of State
- Embassy of Saudi Arabia (Washington, DC) Hajj Requirements
- Hajj Fact Sheet from US Department of State
- WHO | World - travel advice on MERS-CoV for pilgrimages
- CDC Advice for Travel to Mass Gatherings
- CDC Advice for Travel to Hot Climates
- Clinician View: Health Information for Travelers to Saudi Arabia
- Hajj Pilgrimage in CDC Health Information for International Travel -“Yellow Book”