MERS warning issued for Hajj pilgrims

NIH advises pilgrims to avoid close contact, wash hands properly

APP July 15, 2017
NIH advises pilgrims to avoid close contact, wash hands properly. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: The National Institute of Health (NIH) on Friday issued an advisory regarding prevention and control of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) during the upcoming Hajj season.

The Field Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Division (FEDSD) of NIH have directed all concerned authorities, including federal and provincial ministries of religious affairs to take appropriate measures during the pilgrimage season to prevent the spread of diseases.

According to the advisory, MERS is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (MERS coronavirus, or MERS-CoV) was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

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The disease can spread from those infected to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person or during mass gathering events which provide a basis for communicable diseases to spread easily.

“In the wake of incidence of MERS-CoV cases in Saudi Arabia, its travel associated with international spread and the upcoming Hajj seasons, it is imperative to institute effective prevention and control measures among Pakistani pilgrims,” the advisory warned.

Emphasising the need for close collaboration, the NIH recommended that pilgrims with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and immunodeficiency should consult their physicians before travelling.

It further recommended health education sessions at each Hajj camp in collaboration with the local health departments, the departing pilgrims must be educated about general health precautions to lower the risk of infection.

The general health precautions include frequent washing of the hands with soap and water, if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitisers. Moreover, it advises against touching the eyes, nose, and mouth after touching common surfaces or shaking hands with the sick.

The precautions also warn against close contact with the infected, avoiding undercooked meat or food prepared under unsanitary conditions, and washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.

Other precautions include maintaining good personal hygiene, avoiding unnecessary contact with farm, domestic, and wild animals, especially camels.

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In the event pilgrims develop significant acute respiratory illness with fever, cough or diarrhea, the institute advised that they should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and discard the tissue after use.

Such pilgrims were further advised to minimise their contact with others to keep them from infecting others.

Returning pilgrims, it recommended, should be advised to seek immediate medical attention if they develop significant acute respiratory illness with fever and cough in the two weeks after their return.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2017.


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