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Flu fears deterring Haj pilgrims

Flu fears deterring Haj pilgrims

Four pilgrims have died of the H1N1 virus during the Haj this year, but officials say they have taken adequate precautionary measures to prevent an outbreak.

November 25, 2009 10:19 by

Swine flu fears may lead to a 40 percent drop in the number of domestic pilgrims to the annual Haj pilgrimage, Major General Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for Saudi’s Ministry of Interior, told the BBC on Wednesday. He added, however, that the virus might not affect the number of international pilgrims.

Saudi officials reiterated on Tuesday that they have taken adequate measures to prevent the spread of the virus during Haj, and are monitoring all land, sea and air entry points to the kingdom. “There is no fear of a swine flu outbreak in Haj largely because of the early precautionary measures being taken to deal with a breakout,” said Khaled al-Mirghalani, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health.

The kingdom brought in 25 international medical specialists, including experts from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (WHO), to advise the country on how to deal with swine flu, Ziad Memish, the deputy Saudi Health Minister, told CNN.

“Only four deaths and 68 cases have been reported among pilgrims,” he said.  The four who died include a Sudanese man, a Moroccan woman, an Indian man and a 17-year-old girl from Nigeria. All of them had pre-existing medical conditions, he said, adding that the victims had not followed “recommended procedures, especially vaccination against swine flu.”

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