Viral respiratory infections at the Hajj: comparison between UK and Saudi pilgrims

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A high incidence of respiratory infection, including influenza, has been reported at the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Reported rates of influenza have been higher among UK than among domestic pilgrims, but this could be explained by methodological differences among studies. Accordingly, the present study compared the frequencies of respiratory viruses among UK and Saudi pilgrims using the same study design. Pilgrims with upper respiratory tract symptoms were recruited from Mecca and the neighbouring valley Mina during the Hajj 2006. Nasal swabs were used for point-of-care influenza testing and real-time RT-PCR (rtRT-PCR) tests for influenza virus, rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, human metapneumovirus and respiratory syncytial virus. Of 260 pilgrims investigated, 150 were from the UK and 110 were Saudi; of these, 38 (25%) UK pilgrims and 14 (13%) Saudi pilgrims had respiratory infections detectable by rtRT-PCR (p 0.01). In the UK group, there were 19 (13%) cases of rhinovirus infection, 15 (10%) cases of influenza virus infection, two (1%) cases of dual infections with influenza virus and rhinovirus, one (3%) case of parainfluenza virus infection, and one (1%) case of respiratory syncytial virus infection. Fifty-six (37%) UK pilgrims had been vaccinated against influenza virus, with the rates of influenza in the vaccinated and unvaccinated group being 7% and 14%, respectively (p 0.19). In the Saudi group, there were three (3%) cases of rhinovirus infection and 11 (10%) cases of influenza. Only four (4%) Saudi pilgrims had been vaccinated against influenza virus, and none of these was infected with influenza virus. Overall, a significantly higher proportion of the UK pilgrims had detectable respiratory infections (25% vs. 13%, p 0.01). Influenza rates were similar in both groups, but the reported rates of influenza vaccination differed.

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