Five dead from swine flu at hajj: Saudi official
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Last Updated: Sunday, November 29, 2009, 23:23
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.


First Published: Sunday, November 29, 2009, 23:23

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