July 26, 2013
1 min read

Respiratory viruses spread quickly during 2012 hajj pilgrimage

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Recent data suggest that pilgrims who stayed in Saudi Arabia during the 2012 hajj rapidly acquired respiratory viruses, primarily rhinovirus.

The hajj presents major public health and infection control challenges,” researchers from Marseille Université in France wrote in Clinical Infectious Diseases. “In addition to fatigue and extreme weather conditions, which increase the susceptibility of pilgrims to airborne infections, inevitable overcrowding within a confined area of individuals from different parts of the world and close contact with others greatly increases the risk of acquiring or spreading infectious diseases during the pilgrims’ stay.”

The researchers conducted a prospective survey among pilgrims who were departing from Marseille, France, to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during the 2012 hajj season. They collected nasal swabs of the 165 pilgrims before departure and tested them for 11 respiratory viruses. Eight of the pilgrims (4.8%) were positive for at least one virus: five rhinovirus, one influenza C, one adenovirus and one enterovirus.

During their pilgrimage, 70 of the 154 pilgrims provided additional nasal swabs at symptom onset and 27 (38.6%) were positive for at least one virus: 19 rhinovirus, six influenza A, one influenza C, one respiratory syncytial virus B, one metapneumovirus, one adenovirus and one enterovirus. Before departing Saudi Arabia, 154 pilgrims provided nasal samples and 17 (11%) were positive for at least one virus: 13 rhinovirus, three adenovirus, two influenza B and one enterovirus.

“Although our results cannot be extrapolated to all pilgrims, our study illustrates the rapid acquisition of respiratory viruses among pilgrims during their stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, particularly rhinovirus, and demonstrates the potential for spreading these infections to pilgrims’ home countries upon their return,” the researchers wrote.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.