In preparation for the Hajj in October, 2014, the World Health Organization has issued updated health guidance regarding MERS-CoV for travelers who are traveling to the Arabian Peninsula. The guidelines focus on pilgrims traveling for the Hajj and to perform Umrah, but make sense for other travelers to the region as well. The new guidelines include some changes from the previous guidelines issued last year. While the risk of acquiring MERS-CoV while traveling is low, infection is potentially life threatening.
Prior to travel, travelers to the Arabian peninsula are advised to consult with their doctor to determine if they are high risk to developing severe symptoms from MERS-CoV. Persons with significant chronic medical conditions are at increased risk for dying from an infection with MERS-CoV and should weigh the risk of acquiring the infection prior to participating in travel to the Arabian peninsula.
During their trip, the WHO recommends that travelers avoid the activities listed.
- contact with camels
- visits to farms
- consumption of unpasteurized camel’s milk or urine
- consumption of improperly cooked meat
Travelers should also be aware of the symptoms of MERS-CoV, typically sneezing/coughing with fever. If a traveler develops these symptoms while traveling, they should:
- seek immediate medical care in the country where they are traveling (i.e. do not travel home first)
- practice good cough/sneeze hygiene and wash hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing into them.
- isolate themselves as much as possible until the coughing and sneezing are over. If that is not possible, cover mouth and nose with a tissue or surgical mask when not isolated.
Upon returning home, travelers should be aware that MERS-CoV can manifest itself for up to 2 weeks after exposure. They should continue to be alert for symptoms of MERS-CoV and take the same precautions as when they were traveling. Travelers who develop symptoms of MERS-CoV infection after they have left the Arabian peninsula should inform their health care provider of their recent travel.