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WHO warns of cholera risk at annual haj, praises Saudi preparedness

WHO warns of cholera risk at annual haj, praises Saudi preparedness
From Reuters - July 14, 2017

GENEVA (Reuters) - A cholera epidemic in Yemen, which has infected more than 332,000 people, could spread during the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in September, although Saudi authorities are well prepared, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The pilgrimage draws 2-4 million Muslims every year, including 1.5-2 million foreigners, raising the risk from diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, Zika virus and meningococcal disease as well as cholera, the WHO said.

"The current highly spreading outbreak of cholera in Yemen, as well as in some African countries, may represent a serious risk to all pilgrims during the (haj) days and even after returning to their countries," a WHO bulletin said.

Dominique Legros, a WHO cholera expert, said Saudi Arabia had not had a cholera outbreak in many years thanks to reinforced surveillance and rapid tests to detect cases early.

"Dont forget that today we are speaking of Yemen but they are receiving pilgrims from a lot of endemic countries, and they managed not to have an outbreak, essentially by making sure that living conditions, access to water in particular, hygienic conditions, are in place," he told a regular U.N. briefing.

"They are well-prepared in my view."

The incubation period of the disease, which spreads through ingestion of faecal matter and causes acute watery diarrhoea, is a matter of hours. Once symptoms start, cholera can kill within hours if the patient does not get treatment.

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