Mina(Saudi Arabia): Five people died from
swine flu during the hajj, Saudi Arabia said on Sunday, a
relatively small number considering the event is the largest
annual gathering in the world and is seen as an ideal
incubator for the virus.
But some experts warned the true extent of the virus will
not be known until pilgrims return to their home countries
around the world.
Speaking on the final day of the Islamic pilgrimage,
Abdullah al-Rabeeah said authorities recorded 73 cases --
including the five deaths -- of H1N1, commonly known as swine
flu. He said only 10 per cent of the some 2.5 million pilgrims
were vaccinated against the virus.
"Our safety precautions have secured a very successful
and safe hajj for pilgrims from around the world with no
infectious disease outbreaks," al-Rabeeah said.
Saudi officials, along with American and international
health experts, worked to curb any outbreak during the hajj.
Health officials circulated among the sprawling tent camp at
Mina where the pilgrims lived and gave the faithful cheek
swabs for testing later. They also placed hand sanitizer
dispensers on walls in the camps, near public bathrooms and at
ritual sites, while pilgrims arriving at Saudi airports were
scanned using a thermal camera and offered a free vaccine.
But authorities also are using the pilgrimage as a test
case to build a database, watch for mutations and look for
lessons on controlling the flu at other large gatherings like
the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa.