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Hajj and Umrah Q&A

30th May 2024

You may have spotted stories in the media recently about an increased risk of meningitis for people attending Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia, and the health warnings they need to be aware of as they return to the UK.

Hajj and Umrah Q&A

We spoke with our Helpline and Information Nurse Manager Claire Donovan about the risk of meningitis to pilgrims visiting the country.

Why is meningitis a concern for people attending Hajj and Umrah?

Meningitis is a life-threatening infectious disease, and the risk is greater for people where there's a lot of people in a very crowded place. The Hajj and Umrah attract millions of people each year, so the risk of disease spreading is much greater.

Is there a particular geographical risk or is it just that people are coming together in large numbers?

It’s a bit of both. We know that meningitis is more prevalent in certain countries particularly in some of the mid-African countries and we've got travellers coming from all over the world, so it increases the risk of the disease being spread.

We've seen stories in the media in the last few days which relate to an increased risk of MenW cases. Is that the strain of meningitis that people need to be concerned about?

Yes, for the Hajj and Umrah there have been outbreaks in the past of MenW meningitis in particular. The recommendation is that all travellers going to the Hajj and Umrah have a MenACWY vaccine. That vaccine protects against four different strains including the MenW strain. 

Is there anything about MenW which is especially different to other strains?

All forms of bacterial meningitis are serious and life threatening. So, anybody that's worried about being ill or having meningitis symptoms needs to seek urgent medical attention.

What measures can pilgrims who are going to Hajj and Umrah take?

All pilgrims need to get themselves a MenACWY vaccine before they travel. They need to have the vaccine at least 10 days before the day of travel and they must have had it within the previous five years. They also must have a vaccination certificate to prove that that has happened. 

It’s also helpful for them to be aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for, and to look out for each other as well. If anybody is displaying any of the signs or symptoms of meningitis, then they should seek urgent medical attention.

How do you get the MenACWY vaccine if you're an adult?

It's relatively simple as it is a readily available vaccine. You can try your GP surgery in the first instance as some provide travel vaccine clinics. Many local pharmacies and private travel clinics will also have the MenACWY vaccine available.

Obviously, you need to book in advance as you may not get it straight away, so plan ahead and book your appointment in plenty of time before you travel. You will need to pay for this vaccine for travel purposes. Prices will vary depending on where you go, but you can expect to pay around £40-£60 for a dose.