Why is Influenza Vaccination Important for Hajj and Umrah Pilgrims?

Influenza can be deadly[1], so do not ignore it!

Do you know what influenza is? You may have heard people brushing it off as:

“It’s just a common cold.”

“Just take some cold medicine and you’ll be fine.”

“Get some rest and the fever will be gone.”

However, the above statements are far from the truth.

Influenza is very different from a common cold despite having many similar symptoms[2]. Influenza is more harmful as it can cause serious complications such as pneumonia and ear infection, and in some cases – death[1].

As many as 93.4% of Malaysian pilgrims were reported to experience symptoms of respiratory illness, with 78.2% of them fulfilling the criteria of influenza-like illness (ILI)[3]. Hajj and Umrah pilgrims are susceptible to influenza infection as they amass in close proximity to each other within a confined space[4],[5]. If an infected pilgrim coughs or sneezes,[6] the influenza virus can be transmitted to other individuals within a distance of 6 feet[6].

Hajj and Umrah Pilgrims Are At Risk of Influenza Infection

All Hajj and Umrah pilgrims are at risk of developing influenza infection. However, there are certain groups who are at higher risk of getting infected and developing serious complications. These include the elderly as well as those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease[1].

While in the Holy Land, factors such as extreme hot weather, thirst, and overcrowding during the Hajj or Umrah also contribute to physical and mental stress which becomes a challenge to pilgrims[4],[7]. During this time, pilgrims are more vulnerable to acute respiratory infection due to decreased rate of immune response[8].

Fighting the Flu

One of the best ways for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to protect themselves against influenza infection is by getting vaccinated[3],[9]. A study on Malaysian pilgrims discovered that influenza vaccine is 50-60% effective in preventing pneumonia and hospitalization among pilgrims[4].

Pilgrims should also maintain good hygiene at all times. This is because influenza virus can survive on a surface for 48 hours[10]. Thus, without proper cleaning and disinfection, contaminated surfaces can further spread the influenza virus[6].

Pilgrims should also avoid getting too close to those who are ill[6]. Infected pilgrims are able to spread influenza unintentionally if they do not take precautionary steps such as wearing a face mask or covering their mouths while coughing and sneezing[4].

During Hajj and Umrah season, pilgrims from all over the world congregate in the Holy Land and can therefore bring in several different strains of influenza virus. Infection can spread not only among the pilgrims but they may also pass it to their family members upon returning to their home countries[11]. This is why Hajj and Umrah pilgrims should take extra measures to protect themselves against influenza.

What is My Role As a Hajj and Umrah Pilgrim?

Hajj and Umrah pilgrims aim to seek blessings from Allah The Almighty and to attain a blessed pilgrimage. It is important to get vaccinated so that you can help stop the spread of viruses that will potentially harm others as well. By getting the influenza vaccination, you will not only protect yourself but also those around you.

This article is brought to you by “Imunisasi Haji & Umrah” campaign organised by Immunise4Life in collaboration with Family Medicine Specialist Association of Malaysia (FMSA), Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia (IMAM) and Malaysian Medical Association (MMA). Supported by Sanofi Pasteur Malaysia.

[1]CDC. (2018). People with high risk of developing flu-related complications. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm
[2]CDC (2018). Cold Versus Flu. Retrieved June 7, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm
[3]Hashim et al. (2016). The prevalence and preventive measures of the respiratory illness among Malaysian pilgrims in 2013 hajj season. Journal of Travel Medicine. DOI: 10.1093/jtm/tav019
[4]Rahman et al.(2017). Mass Gatherings and Public Health: Case Studies from the Hajj to Mecca. Annals of Global Health. 83(2):386-393.
[5]Koul et al (2016). Influenza not MERS CoV among returning Hajj and Umrah pilgrims with respiratory illness, Kashmir, north India, 2014-15. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2016.12.002
[6]CDC. (2017). How flu spreads. Retrieved April 30, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm
[7]Parker, S. & Gaines, J. (2017). Saudi Arabia: Hajj/Umrah Pilgrimage. Retrieved April 30, 2018 from https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/select-destinations/saudi-arabia-hajj-umrah-pilgrimage
[8]Shah et al. (2016). Determining the Types of Diseases and Emergency Issues in Pilgrims During Hajj: A Literature Review . International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications. 7(10):86-94.
[9]Charrel R.N., et al. (2015). Influenza vaccine for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 15(3):P267.
[10]CDC. (2018). Cleaning to prevent the flu. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/immigrantrefugeehealth/pdf/seasonal-flu/contamination_cleaning_english_508.pdf
[11]Khan et al. 2010. Global Public Health Implications of a Mass Gathering in Mecca, Saudi Arabia During the Midst of an Influenza Pandemic. Journal of Travel Medicine. 17(2):75-81.

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