Influenza not MERS CoV among returning Hajj and Umrah pilgrims with respiratory illness, Kashmir, north India, 2014-15.Travel Med Infect Dis. 2017 Jan - Feb; 15:45-47.TM
The increasing reports of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) caused by MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) from many countries emphasize its importance for international travel. Muslim pilgrimages of Hajj and Umrah involve mass gatherings of international travellers. We set out to assess the presence of influenza and MERS-CoV in Hajj/Umrah returnees with acute respiratory infection. .
Disembarking passengers (n = 8753) from Saudi Arabia (October 2014 to April 2015) were interviewed for the presence of respiratory symptoms; 977 (11%) reported symptoms and 300 (age 26-90, median 60 years; 140 male) consented to participate in the study. After recording clinical and demographic data, twin swabs (nasopharyngeal and throat) were collected from each participant, pooled in viral transport media and tested by real-time RT PCR for MERS-CoV and influenza A and B viruses and their subtypes.
The participants had symptoms of 1-15 days (median 5d); cough (90%) and nasal discharge (86%) being the commonest. None of the 300 participants tested positive for MERS-CoV; however, 33 (11%) tested positive for influenza viruses (A/H3N2 = 13, A/H1N1pdm09 = 9 and B/Yamagata = 11). Eighteen patients received oseltamivir. No hospitalizations were needed and all had uneventful recovery.
Despite a high prevalence of acute respiratory symptoms, MERS coV was not seen in returning pilgrims from Hajj and Umrah. However detection of flu emphasises preventive strategies like vaccination.