By PMA RASHEED
The Gulf Today, 22 Oct 2010
PRIOR to starting the holy trip to the KSA to perform Hajj, pilgrims should adopt effective health safety measures to protect themselves from various communicable diseases, according to the health regulator of Dubai.
Pilgrims suffering from existing health challenges should also take additional cautions, to avoid catastrophe due to worsening of such diseases while performing the ceremonies in the holy land, advises Dubai Health Authority (DHA).
Dr Ahmed Ibrahim Saif Kalban, CEO for Primary Health Care Services Sector at the DHA, said, “The dreams of the pilgrims could be spoiled by falling sick, as numerous health risks have been associated with Hajj.”
“The health risks are caused by the highly overcrowded conditions, chances for transmission of various diseases among the pilgrims and practices associated with the Hajj ceremonies,” added Dr Kalban, who patrons the Hajj health services campaign for the year.
According to him, a number of other health challenges faced by the Gulf region as well as the chaotic climatic conditions of the region are also threats to the safety of pilgrims.
He urged all the Hajj pilgrims from the emirate to receive all recommended vaccinations and empower their health conditions before they begin their travel to the holy land.
“Each pilgrim should consult their doctor at least three weeks prior to the trip,” advised Dr Kalban.
Dr Fatma Mahmoud Al Attar, head of Preventive Services Centres Department at the DHA, discussed the common food or water-borne diseases that may make the pilgrims sick during the Hajj days.
“Diarrhea is one of the most common diseases affecting many Hajj pilgrims. Poor hygiene, improper sanitations in crowded conditions and some particular types of food items like green salads, fish or ice-cream are the main reasons for diarrhea,” she elaborated.
“The symptoms of diarrhea include abdominal pain, vomiting, fever and dehydration,” she added.
To protect oneself from diarrhea, Dr Fatma advised the pilgrims to avoid eating exposed food, roasted items or nuts, fish, milk, ice creams and salads, etc.
“However, no medical treatment is needed for most of the diarrhea cases. If one suffers from diarrhea, the best remedy is to drink adequate amount of liquids to prevent dehydration. The recommended food items are rice, banana, yoghurt, boiled egg, etc.,” she said.
“Do not buy food from street vendors, especially raw foods. Drink only bottled and boiled water and wash hands often,” she warned.
Dr Fatma explained about blood-borne diseases that may affect the pilgrims, as most men shave their head at the completion of their Hajj.
“Local barbers often reuse razors and grazes or abrasions from the razor nicks are common. The practice may increase risks of Hepatitis B and C. So, the pilgrims are advised to go to barbers licensed by the government,” she said.
“All the pilgrims should take vaccines against the Hepatitis before traveling for the Hajj, as the fatal disease can strike any moment,” she added.
According to her, outbreaks of Meningitis are also common among the pilgrims.
“Overcrowded conditions, high humidity and dense air pollution contribute to high meningococcal carriage rates at 80 per cent. The Meningococcal Meningitis caused by W135 is lethal. Upper respiratory tract infections may predispose people to Meningitis,” she said.
“Thus, the hajj pilgrims should be vaccinated before travel. Receiving Meningococcal Meningitis vaccine ACW135Y is mandatory for all travelers to enter Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. The vaccine is effective for three years and should be taken at least 10 days before travel,” she elaborated.
Dr Fatma added that “the overcrowded conditions also cause falling prey to respiratory infections and airborne infections. Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for travelers above 65 years old. The pilgrims also are advised to wear a mask at crowded areas, and change the masks often. Administering flu vaccine is also required.”
“With regard to chronic diseases, patients suffering from diabetes should take extra care about their health conditions,” she said. “There are higher risks of high and low blood sugar problems during the Hajj. The patients should consult their doctors before leaving for the pilgrimage in order to manage the diabetes while at the holy land.”
“The diabetics should learn symptoms and signs of hypoglycemia and the methods to treat it. Wearing protective diabetic shoes, wearing identifying wrist bands or bracelets, keeping extra bottles of insulin and syringes, using a thermos-type jar to transport insulin, and avoiding take-away tea and juices are also advised.”
Moreover, Dr Fatma pointed out cases of people with high blood pressure. “If you are consuming certain high blood pressure medications, extra care should be taken to prevent from getting dehydrated, in addition to strictly controlling the BP before traveling. Take all medications exactly as prescribed, as the BP will rise again if the medication is stopped.”
“Those who suffer from bronchial asthma should be aware about the risks of asthma exacerbation during the Hajj. Such patients should also consult their doctors before the trip to have a plan to manage it, if symptoms aggravate during Hajj,” cautioned Dr Fatma.
She also advised them to carry a Nebulizer Machine with necessary medications if possible. “The patients should also learn the symptoms of acute attack and methods to overcome the situation immediately,” she noted.