What happens if Ebola virus joins the Hajj to Mecca?

Hajj Ebola virus out of control

The Ebola virus, already said to be virtually out of control in west Africa, may also be threatening Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East.

The virus, which still has no known cure, has so far resulted in more than 3,300 confirmed deaths in the three West Africa countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leon.

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Saudi Health officials fear it could spread far and wide if infected Muslim pilgrims attend the 2014 Hajj pilgrimage that began last week on Wednesday, October 1 and is due to continue tomorrow, October 7.

Saudi health officials are doing their utmost to make sure that the deadly virus is not “imported” into Saudi Arabia either avertly or inadvertently.

Is Ebola keeping Hajj pilgrims home?

Hajj with Ebola fear

This years’ pilgrimage  expected around 2 million pilgrims; which is a lower amount from previous years.

This decrease is due to the military conflicts in Iraq and Syria bringing fears of terrorism; and of course, the Ebola virus outbreak.

Besides banning visas from the previously mentioned West African countries, Saudi government officials have upgraded health measures to protect pilgrims, including intense screening of arrivals.

Mobilization of 22,000 health workers and extra health care centers have been established in major cities like Riyadh and Jeddah; and in the locations of the Hajj itself.

Extra precautions are being taken in neighboring African countries to the primary “Ebola Zone” ones; particularly in Nigeria where a number of persons became ill when an infected liberian citizen arrived in Lagos from Liberia and later died from the disease.

Nigerians in the Hajj mix

More than 66,000 pilgrims from Nigeria were expected to be attending this year’s Hajj.

Rana Sidani, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), said in an interview with London based International Business Times that although there is some concern, the over all possibility of an Ebola outbreak occurring as a result of the Hajj is relatively low:

“As millions travel to join the Hajj, we are not discounting the possibility that Ebola can be introduced to the region through the pilgrimage,” she said. WHO is not taking any chances however. Its director Margaret Chan, stated  that the deadly virus is “beyond control” in West African countries like Liberia and Sierra
Leon.

On top of all this, a Saudi businessman who had returned from West Africa in early September was hopitalized with symptoms similar to Ebola.

Previous Hajj pilgrimages have been overshadowed with fears other serious contageous diseases. These include H1N1 influenza or “swine flu” during the 2009 Hajj. A more recent disease called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS caused fears during the 2013 pilgrimage.

Specially equipped health care centers have been set up in the Kingdom to deal with any suspected illness that might be caused by the Ebola virus. Signs in numerous  languages are encouraging Hajj participants to report any suspected cases of Ebola-like symptoms immediately to health care authorities.

More articles on Ebola and other articles on the Hajj:

Ebola Virus, Out of Control in Africa, May Be in Saudi Arabia
MERS Risk and Hajj; How to Prepare for a Healthy Pilgrimage
Swine Flu Finds Hajj 2009

Top image of kaaba and Mecca from Shutterstock

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