World Health Organisation has issued interim travel advice to Haj pilgrims on the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), saying the risk to an individual of contracting the virus is considered very low at this time.
The advisory for prevention, detection and management of imported cases of MERS-CoV provides guidance to countries from which pilgrims will be travelling in the coming months for Umra and Haj to Saudi Arabia, which has seen maximum impact of the virus.
The virus has affected nine countries to date and over 45 persons have died so far, the maximum from the Gulf countries.
"At this time, the risk to an individual pilgrim of contracting MERS-CoV is considered very low. WHO does not recommend the application of any travel or trade restriction or entry screening," the advisory said.
WHO encourages countries to raise awareness of this travel advice to reduce the risk of MERS-CoV infection among pilgrims and those associated with their travel, including transport operators and ground staff, and about self-reporting of illness by travelers.
Countries have been asked to use all practical and effective means to communicate information on a range of issues before, during and after Umra and Haj to all key groups including vulnerable groups, public health officials, health care staff responsible for the care of ill pilgrims, public transportation and tourism industries and the general public.
It said countries should advise pilgrims that pre-existing major medical conditions (like chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, immunodeficiency) can increase the likelihood of illness, including MERS-CoV infection, during travel and pilgrims should consult a health care provider before travelling to review the risk and assess whether making the pilgrimage is advisable.
Countries should make information known to departing pilgrims and travel organisations on general travel health precautions, which will lower the risk of infection in general, including illnesses such as influenza and traveller's diarrhoea.