This systematic review aims to summarize the incidence and etiology of diarrheal illness among pilgrims attending the Hajj and Umrah. Gastroenteritis and diarrhea have been potential threats during previous Hajj pilgrimages. The last cases of Hajj related cholera were reported in 1989. Currently, respiratory tract infections account for the majority of health problems during the Hajj. This shift in epidemiology reflects the improvement of sanitary conditions in Saudi Arabia in general, and at religious sites in particular. Nevertheless, gastrointestinal diseases, food-poisoning outbreaks, and diarrhea continue to occur among pilgrims. Available studies about diarrhea among Hajj pilgrims indicate a mean prevalence of 2% with the highest prevalence of 23% among a group of French pilgrims in 2013. There is an obvious lack of information about the etiology of diarrheal disease at the Hajj. Further studies addressing this issue in hospitalized patients as well as prospective cohort studies would be of interest. During the Hajj, hand washing is regularly carried out by pilgrims under a ritual purification, often called ablution. We recommend implementation of effective hand hygiene practices focusing on the regular use of alcohol-based hand rubs, as they require less time than traditional hand washing, act more rapidly, and contribute to sustained improvement in compliance associated with decreased infection rates.
Keywords: Diarrhea; Gastro-intestinal diseases; Hajj; Pilgrimage; Umrah.
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