The Health Ministry has warned that 75 percent of Indonesia’s prospective hajj pilgrims are highly susceptible to a deadly new virus from Saudi Arabia, prompting calls for the elderly and frail to be prevented from going to Mecca in October.
Fidiansjah, the head of the ministry’s Hajj Health Center, said over the weekend as quoted by Tempo.co that the elderly and those with chronic health problems were the most vulnerable to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV.
He estimated that nearly 50 percent of hajj hopefuls were over the age 60 while 25 percent had conditions that increased their susceptibility to the virus, such as diabetes, hypertension or heart disease.
He said that Saudi health authorities had recommended that the elderly not undertake the hajj this year, but that this would be difficult to implement since the average age of those preparing to embark from Indonesia was around 50.
Instead, Fidiansjah said, the Health Ministry would focus on communicating to persons at risk regarding how they could avoid contracting the often fatal viral infection while in Saudi Arabia. These efforts would involve teaching the pilgrims about warning signs and symptoms of the respiratory disease as well as how to protect themselves while in large crowds, how to eat healthily and how to stay hydrated.
Since no inoculation against MERS-CoV is available yet, the elderly and those with chronic ailments or pre-existing medical conditions will be advised to get flu and pneumonia shots before leaving.
“At the very least these vaccinations will help keep them from catching flu and thus protect them from the dangers of coronavirus [by maintaining their general health],” Fidiansjah said.
Bachrul Hayat, the secretary general of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said that his office was working closely with the Health Ministry on keeping this year’s batch of 168,800 would-be pilgrims safe from the new virus.
“We have to stay alert to ensure that our pilgrims don’t contract this virus,” he said, noting that, with a fatality rate of 50 percent, it was considered very dangerous.By the way, I see Helen Branswell now has exactly 6,000 followers. Congratulations, and may their numbers double and triple! If you're not following her, you're missing some of the best health journalism anywhere (not to mention some lively Twitter conversations).