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Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia

Warning - Level 3, Avoid Nonessential Travel
Alert - Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions
Watch - Level 1, Practice Usual Precautions

Released: June 04, 2014

The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is among the largest mass gatherings in the world. Hajj draws about 3 million Muslims from around the world, and more than 11,000 Americans make the pilgrimage each year. This year, Hajj will take place from approximately October 2–7, 2014. Umrah is a similar pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of the year, but it is likely to be more crowded during the month of Ramadan (approximately June 28 to July 28, 2014) than at other times of the year.

Because of the crowds, mass gatherings such as Hajj and Umrah are associated with unique health risks. If you plan to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah, follow the recommendations below to help you stay safe and healthy.  

What can travelers do to protect themselves?

Before your trip:

Protect yourself from MERS

For travel health recommendations related to the MERS outbreak, see MERS in the Arabian Peninsula.

During your trip:

  • Follow security and safety guidelines. Hajj is the largest mass gathering in the world.
    • Avoid the most densely congested areas, perform rituals during nonpeak hours, and be aware of emergency exits. Stampedes at previous Hajj events have injured or killed hundreds, most recently in 2006. However, the Saudi government has spent more than $25 billion to help thin crowds and minimize this risk. Saudi religious authorities have also expanded the times when certain rituals can be performed.
    • Carry a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp.
    • Carry the contact information for the nearest US embassy or consulate in Saudi Arabia and local emergency service numbers.
    • Follow all local laws and social customs.
  • Follow food and water safety guidelines: Eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated water can cause illnesses such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and travelers’ diarrhea. Read about how to prevent these diseases by visiting the Safe Food and Water page. Beware of food from street vendors, ice in drinks, and other foods and drinks that may be contaminated and cause travelers’ diarrhea.
  • Prevent mosquito bites and use insect repellent: Diseases spread by mosquitoes are a risk in Saudi Arabia. Read more about ways to prevent bug bites by visiting the Avoid Bug Bites page.
  • Follow guidelines for hot climates: Dehydration and heat-related illnesses are common during Umrah and Hajj. Temperatures in Mecca can easily exceed 100°F in the summer and early fall. Drink plenty of (bottled!) water, keep cool, and wear sunscreen. Read more about how to prevent these conditions by visiting the Travel to Hot Climates and Sun Exposure pages.
  • Use disposable, single use blades for head shaving: Men are required to shave their heads after Hajj (many men shave their heads after Umrah as well), and unclean blades can transmit disease. Male pilgrims should go to officially designated centers to be shaved, where barbers are licensed and use disposable, single-use blades.
  • Avoid swimming in fresh water—lakes and rivers.  Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection that can be spread in fresh water that may cause serious health problems. It is a low risk in Saudi Arabia but still known to be present.
  • Choose safe transportation: Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of healthy US citizens in foreign countries. Read about ways to prevent transportation injuries by visiting the Road Safety page.
  • Reduce your exposure to germs:
    • Wash your hands often.
    • If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
    • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
    • Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who are sick.
  • If you feel sick during your trip—

After your trip:

  • If you are not feeling well after your trip, you may need to see a doctor. If you need help finding a travel medicine specialist, see Find a Clinic. Be sure to tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. Also tell your doctor if you were bitten or scratched by an animal while traveling.
  • For more information, see Getting Sick after Travel.

Additional Information

Clinician Information

 

 
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