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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 14:45 GMT
Pilgrims urged to take vaccine
Hajj
Millions underwent this year's Hajj
British Muslims planning to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca have been urged to take up a new meningitis vaccine.

The Department of Health has warned that people who take part in the Hajj or other smaller pilgrimages face a serious threat of disease.

In the last two years an unusual and deadly strain of meningitis called W135 has killed several people, both pilgrims and those who they were in contact with on their return to the UK.

Meningitis is a serious threat to those travelling to the Hajj and to their families and friends who are at risk of being infected by them when they return

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson

The Muslim community estimates that 50,000 pilgrims travel from England to Saudi Arabia each year.

Launching the campaign at London's Regents Park Mosque, Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson said that from today a multi-lingual leaflet highlighting the need for immunisation will be distributed through mosques, travel agents and GP surgeries.

It urges travellers to talk to their GP about the vaccine so practices can order in supplies and to allow enough time for it to be become fully effective.

The vaccine is available through GP surgeries and specialist travel health centres across the UK.

Serious threat

Professor Donaldson said: "Meningitis is a serious threat to those travelling to the Hajj and to their families and friends who are at risk of being infected by them when they return.

"Last year 10 people died from a dangerous strain of meningitis as a direct result of visiting the Hajj or close contact with someone who had been.

"A new vaccination which protects against four different strains of meningitis is being made available to all those intending to participate in the Hajj pilgrimage and their families.

"We have been working closely with the government of Saudi Arabia which has stated that in 2002 entry to the Hajj may be refused to those who do not have a valid certificate showing that they have received this vaccine.

"The aim of this campaign is to reduce to as close to zero as possible, cases of meningococcal infection in the UK associated with these pilgrimages."

In March 2000 an outbreak of W135 meningococcal disease occurred amongst pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia. A total of 45 cases were identified in UK residents and eight people died.

Following the pilgrimage in 2001, 38 cases of W135 infection were identified and in the UK 10 people died.

W135 is a strain of meningitis not found in this country but prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

Symptoms are the same as other forms of meningitis, with people suffering high temperatures, vomiting and dislike of bright lights.

The Hajj in 2002 will take place in the last week in February.

See also:

21 Apr 01 | Health
Meningitis warning 'too late'
18 Apr 01 | Health
Meningitis deaths hit pilgrims
09 Mar 99 | Medical notes
Meningitis
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