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DoH cautions pilgrims and doctors to be aware of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome


Amanda Lyons 31/07/2018 1:20:00 PM

The Department of Health has issued a preventive health warning for people travelling to the Middle East, and for the doctors who will treat them.

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More than two million pilgrims are expected to travel the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to participate in this year’s Hajj. (Image: Narong Sangnak)

The 2018 Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) will take place from 19–24 August. More than two million Muslims, including an estimated 3000 Australians, are expected to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to participate.
 
The Department of Health (DoH) has requested that Australians travelling to the Hajj, as well as the healthcare professionals who may treat then upon return, be aware of important information regarding Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
 
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is experiencing an ongoing outbreak of MERS, a viral respiratory illness with a fatality rate of approximately 36%. People with existing health conditions, such as those with comorbidities or who are immunocompromised, have a higher risk of sickness or death from the disease.
 
Travellers can better protect themselves with preventive measures such as avoiding close contact with sick people, camels and camel products, and paying careful attention to hand hygiene.

Dr Penny Burns, who has a special interest in travel medicine and disaster planning, also suggested some specific areas in which GPs can offer advice to travellers.

‘Some pilgrims walk quite a distance, including through tunnels. So, for example, advice on travel vaccinations, usual medications, general fitness, hydration, heat management and sun protection, awareness of risk in congested areas and even taking a personal health summary in case it is needed,’ she told newsGP.

While the Hajj has not previously had a strong impact on outbreaks of MERS or further international spread of the disease, health authorities remain aware of the need to monitor the situation during one of the largest ritual gatherings in the world.
 
GPs and travellers can access further information and resources about MERS from the DoH website, including an information card that can assist travellers before leaving and upon their return. Copies of the information card can be obtained in multiple languages by emailing humanbiosecurity@health.gov.au


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