The Hajj is one of the largest public gatherings in the world. This year, from Sept. 20 to 25, millions of Muslims from around the world will travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to retrace the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad and perform religious rituals.
The event presents unique health risks and concerns given the number and close proximity of the people at the event. Because Hajj participants will spend five days in close proximity to one another, they will be at a higher risk of acquiring illnesses, including meningococcal disease, respiratory tract infections and diarrheal diseases. Hajj participants are also more likely to develop heat exhaustion, heat stroke and skin infections, due to long hours spent walking in the hot sun.
The CDC recently issued a Level 2 travel notice for Americans planning to travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj as well as the Umrah, a similar pilgrimage that can be undertaken any time of the year but is likely to be more crowded during the month of Ramadan (approximately June 17-July 17). Since the Hajj draws 11,000 Americans annually, here is some information about how to protect yourself at this event, Umrah or other large public gatherings:
- Avoid the most congested areas, perform rituals during non-peak hours and be aware of emergency exit locations relative to your location in the crowd.
- Practice hand hygiene when possible.
- Be alert for symptoms of meningococcal meningitis, such as headaches, nausea and vomiting, and drowsiness; and for symptoms of respiratory tract infections, such as cough, fever and headaches.
- If you are not feeling well during or after the event, seek medical attention, and be sure to mention your recent travel and attendance at this mass gathering.