Muslims Treking to Mecca Learn About Meningitis

PATERSON, NJ-Doctors and staff are preparing a New Jersey community for their holy pilgrimage to Mecca. While many anxious travelers are worried about packing and airline tickets, healthcare workers are quickly teaching about the dangers of meningitis.

Men and women in traditional skullcaps and headdresses watched a slide show of disfiguring rashes and a picture of diseased brain--all the result of meningitis. The disease infects the spinal cord fluid and the fluid surrounding the brain. Meningitis can cause brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities when not fatal.

Last year, a deadly meningitis outbreak during the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia left 70 people dead. There are 500 Muslims from the Paterson going to the event next month.

Doctors want to make sure they are prepared. The educational campaign, given in both Arabic and English, shows the risk of W-135 meningitis. The US is the only country to vaccinate against the strain; however, six cases were reported last year. American Muslims may have caught meningitis from other pilgrims and others may have become carriers for the illness.

Travelers were warned to stay away from those coughing and sneezing. They were also told to take antibiotics before leaving Saudi Arabia to prevent becoming a carrier. Meningitis is an airborne illness and symptoms include fever, stiff neck, headache, and nausea.