The uncomfortable truth: Haj pilgrims to Mecca and the spread of illnesses

Simply raising this topic is almost certain to be denounced as “Islamophobia,” but disease vectors don’t care about theology.  In the past week, there were two health scares at major US airports with passengers quarantined on airliners that landed from overseas with very sick passengers on board.

On Wednesday, an Emirates Airline 380 super jumbo jet from Dubai was quarantined at JFK Airport, with 100 passengers initially reported as ill. Eventually, nineteen passengers were confirmed as ill, and ten passengers were hospitalized with respiratory illnesses. The following day, two American Airlines flights from Europe were quarantined upon landing at Philadelphia, and eventually 12 passengers were identified as ill and quarantined, while the rest of the passengers were allowed to proceed on their way.

What could possibly explain these incidents appearing right now? Reuters bravely issued an article explaining, “Two health scares at US airports tied to Mecca pilgrims.” A Google search for key words reveals no US media outlets picking up the report, however. Reuters explains:

Two major health scares at US airports involving inbound flights are related to pilgrims returning from the Haj, the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which ended in late August, US health officials said on Friday.

Actually, It was obvious from the first incident that the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca – a requirement for all Muslims financially able to do so – was a likely source of the widespread illnesses among air passengers. Commenting on the Emirates quarantine, a Muslim poster on  discussion thread at wrote:

As someone who's done hajj and been to makkah many times, the potential to spread disease there is about as bad as it gets. millions of people from all voer the world in close proximity sharing food, water, toilets, etc. i totally buy the flu story, as it's a running joke among muslims that hajis (people who do hajj) always come back sick

Pilgrims at the Al-Masjid al-Haram on Hajj in 2008 (photo credit: Flickr)

And another poster replied:

I myself just came back from Mecca doing hajj a few days ago. Many members of our group had cough on the last few days of our trip.

Indeed: gathering huge crowds of people from all over the world and placing them in close proximity. sharing toilets, food and water under inherently stressful conditions is anideal breeding ground for the spread of disease.

There is a huge downside to globalism in terms of the spread of disease. People arrive from places where illnesses unfamiliar to our own terrain thrive, and a certain number of arrivals bring disease with them. The Plagues of the Middle Ages came to Europe by ship, on fleas that lived on rats that lived in ships. Today, we have the cost of international travel so low that ordinary people from many countries have the means to go across the globe for various reasons, including emigration, business, family, and religion.

It’s too bad that political correctness prevents us from noting the disease vector that accompanies the haj.

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