Flu Forces Hajj Pilgrimage Restrictions

Armen Hareyan's picture
Hajj and swine flu
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Health ministers from Arab countries have set series of restrictions on the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca. This rare move is adopted because of the spread of influenza A in the region, reports te Egyptian media today.

The measures, which do not include the suspension of the pilgrimage, were adopted at a ministerial meeting which ended last night at the office for the Eastern Mediterranean World Health Organization (WHO) in Cairo.

Those responsible for Arab health decided to exclude from the pilgrimage the elderly who are over 65 years and the children under 12 years. The restrictions also apply on those people suffering from diabetes, hypertension and other ills that affect the heart, liver or kidneys.

This year, the traditional pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, falls in November. Also there is Umrah, which can be taken at any time. As you can see this is right in the middle of the 2009 flu season. Now the faithful Muslims are faced with a challenge of how to reconcile religious duty with swine flu spread.

Every year about three million Muslims from around the world take the travel to Mecca taking part in the pilgrimage. It is the fulfillment of one of the five precepts of Islam, along with the profession of faith, prayer, fasting and alms giving.

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The decision of the Arab Ministers of Health to not cancel this year's Hajj to Mecca puts an end to long speculations that emerged in the recent days before the meeting. According to them there was a possibility that the Saudi authorities may chose to annul the pilgrimage. However, this meeting stopped short of it and just puts restrictions on he youth and the old due to flu spread.

The influenza A virus was first reported in the Middle East in late May in Kuwait. Now the flu has spread throughout the region, according to reports from local health authorities. Saudi Arabia announced its first case of influenza A virus on July 7.

On Sunday, Egypt reported the first fatality from the virus, specifically a woman who began to notice the symptoms while making "Umrah in Mecca, a smaller pilgrimage to Mecca performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year.

To be safe, it will probably help if pilgrims check if they may have any flu symptoms before they take the travel. Doctors may recommend taking a flu shot to be safer during your travel. The makers of flu shots say they may be having a hard time producing new swine flu vaccine, but the U.S. has a nasal-spray version and its maker says it will have much more.

Forbes' Javier Espinoza writes that Glaxo has the flu shots in its arms. "As generics continue to bite into GlaxoSmithKline's profits and its sales drop, the swine flu pandemic couldn't have come at a better time for the drug company. The firm said it expected to triple its capacity of its antiviral Relenza to 195 million doses of the drug as it continued ongoing talks with up to 50 countries to supply products to cope with the H1N1 virus."

Written by Armen Hareyan

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