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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 15:22 GMT
Meningitis warning for Mecca pilgrims
Grand Mosque Mecca
Thousands of pilgrims flock to Mecca's Grand Mosque
British Muslims heading for Mecca on the Hajj pilgrimage are being urged to get vaccinated against meningitis before they travel.

The Meningitis Trust says in the last two years travellers have been contaminated with a particularly serious strain of the disease on their religious trip to Saudi Arabia.

They brought the bug back with them, infecting some people they came in contact with in the UK.

In 2001, more than 50 people contracted the W135 strain of the disease and at least 10 of them died.

Pilgrims in Mecca
Pilgrims are at risk of catching meningitis

The warning comes as pilgrims from all over the world are making final preparations for the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The Koran says it is the duty of every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it to make the Hajj pilgrimage at least once.

The Meningitis Trust says it has seen the disease appear in large Muslim communities in the UK, and an increase in childhood cases in the East End of London.

Pilgrims from Tower Hamlets are being offered vaccination at an east London mosque.

Vaccination programme

Professor of Child Health at the Royal London Hospital, Robert Booy, said: "Last year less than 50% of pilgrims were vaccinated. We are trying to maximise protection."

Professor Booy has already vaccinated 250 people and is hoping to give protection to 250 more in the next week.

The five-day holy festival starts in February.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars, or duties, of the Islamic faith and every year two million Muslims from around the world travel to the holy city of Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed.

Around 20,000 Britons are expected to make the trip this year.

Two years ago the US government first warned about meningitis being brought back by Mecca pilgrims.

See also:

05 Mar 01 | Middle East
Pilgrims killed in Mecca stampede
28 Feb 01 | Middle East
Pilgrims converge on Mecca
21 Apr 00 | Middle East
Meningitis from Mecca pilgrimage in US
09 Feb 00 | Middle East
Millions begin Mecca pilgrimage
05 Nov 99 | Middle East
British consulate in Mecca
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