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The Hajj and H1N1: Pilgrimage During a Pandemic

4 years ago
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By some estimates, the hajj is the single largest, annual gathering in the world; the pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca attracts between 2 and 3 million visitors from all over the globe. But this year, officials are worried about several strains of H1N1.

In a study published in the journal Science on Thursday, researchers warned that measures would need to be taken to prevent outbreaks of H1N1 both during the hajj, which takes place Nov. 25-30 this year, and after, as travelers return to their home countries.

One of the authors of the study, Dr. Ziad Memish, who is also the Assistant Deputy Minister for Preventative Medicine in Saudi Arabia, told Science that, though nobody would be blocked from entrance, Saudi Arabia is recommending that pregnant women, the elderly, young children and people with some chronic diseases don't attend this year. Additionally, health officers have been stationed at all points of entry, and some airports have even been equipped with heat sensors to detect people with high fevers.

Officials have also recommended that travelers get vaccinated, but not all countries are going to be able to inoculate all pilgrims before they leave for Mecca. With low vaccine supplies globally, it's a problem that is likely to be repeated at other world events. Until vaccine supplies do catch up, any large gatherings are going to have to figure the possibility of further outbreaks of H1N1 into their calculations.

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