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November 21, 2009

Four pilgrim deaths from swine flu at Hajj-Saudia Arabia

Adel Zaanoun
Swine flu has killed four pilgrims in Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage, the health ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency on Saturday.
It was the first reported news of fatalities from the disease among pilgrims gathering in the kingdom for the pilgrimage which Muslims are obliged to undertake once in their lifetime if they have the means.

The ministry said a Moroccan woman, a Sudanese man and an Indian man -- all aged 75 -- had died from A(H1N1), as had a 17-year-old girl from Nigeria. It said the four had not followed "recommended procedures, especially vaccination against swine flu."

Health ministry spokesman Dr Khaled Marghlani told AFP the four victims were all suffering from health problems already, including cancer and respiratory illness.

Three of the deaths announced on Saturday were in Medina and the fourth was in Mecca itself, the health ministry statement said.

Marghlani said 16 other cases of swine flu infection among pilgrims had been detected, and that "four are in hospital in critical condition." Twelve people suffering from the disease had recovered completely after treatment, he said.

Health authorities in the kingdom have mobilised for the world's largest gathering since swine flu began spreading across the globe after it was first reported in April.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across the globe have already gathered in the country to perform the hajj in the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina.

The peak day in the hajj is this coming Thursday, when pilgrims gather at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammed gave his final sermon.

For the hajj, thermal cameras were installed at air and sea terminals in Jeddah where most pilgrims arrive, some 15,000 health workers are deployed, and hospitals have hundreds of extra beds available.

In Medina and Mecca, as well as in Jeddah, the government has taken measures to identify the virus in suspected cases.

The health ministry also has mobile units which can instantly send to a central monitoring centre the locations of infections, to monitor outbreaks.

On November 11, the Saudi authorities reported 70 people had died in the country from the disease and said more than 7,000 proven cases had been recorded.

On Friday, World Health Organisation data showed around 6,750 people had died from swine flu worldwide since the virus was first uncovered in Mexico and the United States in April.

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