Swine flu claims five on Hajj1st December 2009
Saudi Arabian health authorities reported that five people died of swine flu during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the largest annual gathering in the world.
Some people had previously assumed that the Hajj would serve as a natural incubator for the spread of the virus, and experts are still worried that the pilgrims will not begin to develop swine flu until after they return to their home countries.
Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Rabeea, the Saudi minister of health, said that five pilgrims had died in the days leading up to and during the Hajj, while 73 cases of the virus had been recorded among the 2.5 million pilgrims who entered Saudi Arabia, only 10% of whom had been vaccinated against the virus.
He said that his ministry's safety precautions secured a successful Hajj for pilgrims from around the world.
The Saudi ministry of health, in a joint effort with American and international teams, made a concerted effort against swine flu both before and during the pilgrimage.
In addition to making sure public bathrooms near ritual sites were stocked with hand sanitizer, the teams tested pilgrims who were camped at Mina by giving them cheek swabs, and at Saudi airports using thermal cameras.
The health workers involved used the pilgrimage as a way of testing their flu treating capabilities.
They built a database in order to monitor the virus for possible mutations, as well as to educate themselves about how the H1N1 swine flu might behave at other large gatherings such as World Cup soccer matches.
Although health organisations around the world are worried that the Hajj pilgrims might develop swine flu after they return to their respective countries, Al-Rabeea said that many of the pilgrims were in the country longer than the usual incubation period without showing any symptoms of the virus.
However, he said that the pilgrims' home countries should continue to monitor their citizens for any symptoms of the disease when they return from the Hajj.
According to the governor of the Mecca region of Saudi Arabia, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, a grand total of 2.5 million people made the Hajj pilgrimage this year, down by about half a million people from last year's numbers.
All but one of the people who died were over age 70. They were from India, Morocco, Pakistan, and Sudan.
A 17-year-old Nigerian girl also died of the disease while on pilgrimage.
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Title: Swine flu claims five on Hajj
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 13429
Date Added: 1st Dec 2009