US recommends meningococcal disease shot ahead of Hajj travel

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US CDC warns of deadly meningococcal outbreak linked to Saudi Arabia travel.

NEW YORK, May 21: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is sounding the alarm on potentially lethal cases of meningococcal disease associated with travel to Saudi Arabia.

Since April, there have been 12 confirmed cases of meningococcal disease among pilgrims traveling for Umrah, a spiritual journey to Makkah, the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This pilgrimage is a revered practice in the Muslim faith, drawing believers from around the world to seek blessings. Notably, this year’s Hajj, a more extensive pilgrimage, is scheduled for June 14 to 19.

Five cases have been reported in the United States, with France and the United Kingdom accounting for four and three cases, respectively. The majority of the affected pilgrims had visited Mecca, while two cases were linked to close contacts of pilgrims.

Meningococcal disease, caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, poses significant health risks, including meningitis and septicemia. Symptoms can vary widely and may mimic other common illnesses like COVID-19 or influenza. However, early diagnosis is crucial, as the disease can lead to severe complications and even death.

Alarmingly, research indicates an estimated fatality rate of 10% to 15%, even with proper treatment. Additionally, the CDC has noted a concerning uptick in cases in the US, with 143 cases reported by March 2024, compared to 81 during the same period last year.

In response to the outbreak, health officials are urging travelers to Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah to ensure they are vaccinated against meningococcal disease. The quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine, which protects against serogroups A, C, W, and Y, is mandatory for pilgrims aged one and older.

The CDC recommends healthcare providers review patients’ vaccination history and consider administering the MenACWY vaccine at least 10 days before their pilgrimage. Prompt antibiotic treatment is also advised for individuals with suspected exposure to meningococcal disease, regardless of vaccination status.

With the recent outbreak underscoring the ongoing threat posed by meningococcal disease, health authorities stress the importance of preventive measures and heightened vigilance among travelers to high-risk areas.

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