Meningitis & Hajj Pilgrims

ABH October 3, 2012 0

Meningitis is one of the most notorious killer diseases known to the mankind. I would call it a dreadful, deadly disabling disease – with a very high risk of mortality and disabilities. Those few who manage to survive, end up with an extremely tragic and pitiable quality of life – if you can call it quality at all- with brain damage, behavior problems, learning difficulties, seizures, deafness, blindness, amputated limbs at times and heavily scared and disfigured skin.

All these tragic consequences are preventable and I shall endeavor to highlight some of the most important and significant points to create public awareness – especially amongst those who intend to perform Hajj and Umrah.

1. What is Meningitis? 
The human brain is well protected within the skull from day to day injuries. However, mother nature has provided additional protection through layers of certain tissues, which surround the brain and these are called Meningies. If and when they become inflamed or infected the person becomes a victim of meningitis.

2.   Is ‘Septicaemia’ also relevant? 
Yes, very much. Indeed, in simple words, if and when the germs causing meningitis enter the blood stream, they create a state of ”blood poisoning” and this is technically labeled as Septicemia. A person can suffer from either or both of these conditions simultaneously.   In any case, the consequences are equally disastrous in terms of mortality and morbidity, as above mentioned.

An official certificate of vaccination must be obtained from the vaccinator, clearly indicating your full name as it appears in your passport, date of vaccination, signature and official stamp of the vaccinator for the following two very important reasons:

a) This certificate is mandatory legal requirement without which your Hajj and Umra visa application will be rejected by the Saudi Embassy.

b) You are protected against this disease for 3 years from the time of vaccination. Should you wish to perform Hajj and Umrah again within those 3 years, revaccination will be un-necessary.

3.   What is the cause of this condition? 
To simplify the highly technical background, a large variety of germs can cause these conditions, interestingly enough, some of these ”enemies” normally live as ”friends” in the back of our nose and throat, in some 10 percent of the community. Such ” carriers” normally lead a perfectly happy and healthy life. However, under certain circumstances these bacteria enter into the blood stream and cause septicaemia, meningitis   or both.

I would like to focus here only on those notorious germs, which are most relevant from the point of view of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. These germs are known as ”Meningoccocci A and C”

4. What are the main symptoms and signs of the disease and recommended action? 
Kindly make a special note of the important fact that the time between the onset of the symptoms and death – if undiagnosed or inadequately treated – is a matter of ONLY HOURS- not days! So

PLEASE BEWARE

The initial symptoms can be as simple as those of flu, common cold and cough but with rapidly rising fever yet cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, dislike for food especially amongst babies, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains, muscle and joint pains, head and neck pains with neck stiffness, dislike for bright light as it intensifies the head and neck pain, rapidly increasing drowsiness- leading to coma and eventually – death!

I would particularly highlight here a pink, non-itchy, spotty rash- especially amongst children- which may be generalized or confined only to a part of the body. This is highly diagnostic of this disease. The peculiarity of this spotty rash is that for example, you can detect it by a simple homely test. Take a glass tumbler used for drinking water and press it against the spots. The red spots will not disappear under pressure and will remain visible through the glass. Almost all other types of skin spots either fade off or totally disappear under pressure.

Please note that these symptoms and signs may not appear in the same order as above mentioned and indeed, the victim may not experience all of these either.

Most importantly, even if you remotely suspect meningitis/septicaemia- please immediately seek the expert opinion of your family doctor take the patient to the nearest hospital.

Either way, the patient must be hospitalized as quickly as possible where the specialists shall carry out the comprehensive examination and investigations and if the diagnosis is confirmed, immediate intensive treatment can be initiated to save the precious life.

The key message therefore is – the timely intervention is most crucial because there is only a few hours gap between the bed and the grave! Seek early help- to be safe rather than sorry!

5. Is meningitis preventable? 
Yes indeed, it is! All the miserable suffering and death can be prevented by a simple vaccination obtainable from your family doctor or vaccination centres. It is called ‘Quadrivalent Vaccine’ or ‘ACW 135 Y vaccine’

It is imperative to get yourself vaccinated at least 3 weeks before you apply for Hajj and Umrah visa to the Saudi Embassy. It takes at least that long to create adequate immunity in your body against this killer disease.

An official certificate of vaccination must be obtained from the vaccinator, clearly indicating your full name as it appears in your passport, date of vaccination, signature and official stamp of the vaccinator for the following two very important reasons:

a) This certificate is mandatory legal requirement without which your Hajj and Umra visa application will be rejected by the Saudi Embassy.

b) You are protected against this disease for 3 years from the time of vaccination. Should you wish to perform Hajj and Umrah again within those 3 years, revaccination will be un-necessary.

Please make a special note that any accompanying children under 2 years, will need two vaccinations 3 months apart to obtain adequate protection against the disease and their vaccination certificates must be accordingly endorsed.
The good old saying – ‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed’- is the most appropriate food for thought in this context here. Indeed, this is sole purpose behind this humble and modest effort on the writer’s part.

The good old saying – ‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed’- is the most appropriate food for thought in this context here. Indeed, this is sole purpose behind this humble and modest effort on the writer’s part.

Most unfortunately, there was an international outbreak of meningitis amongst the returning Hajj Pilgrims in the year 2000, in spite of the compulsory vaccination Sadly, the death toll was heavy. An immediate investigation was launched spearheaded by the WHO as a result of which, a hitherto unknown germ of meningitis was identified and labeled as ‘W135′. This was held responsible for the deaths amongst the returning Hajj Pilgrims and their immediate family members.
Through extensive research, the new meningitis vaccine (Quadrivalent) was mass-produced and very rapidly internationally distributed for the use by the Hajj & Umrah Pilgrims from the year 2001.

The Key message therefore is that those pilgrims who had the meningitis vaccination for and before Hajj 2000, must get revaccinated with the new ‘Quadrivalent Vaccine’ if they wish to perform the pilgrimage now or in future for fuller protection.

6. Conclusion: Beware of the killer disease – meningitis! 
he good old saying – ‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed’- is the most appropriate food for thought in this context here. Indeed, this is sole purpose behind this humble and modest effort on the writer’s part, to impart maximum possible up-to-date information to lay public in particular, in the simplest possible and non technical format. All that remains now to be added are my most sincere and heart felt prayers for you and yours! May Allah Be and Remain your Provider and Protector throughout your sacred pilgrimage and through all your life there after Amen!!

by: Dr Syed Raza Hussain

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