November 24, 2009

Muslim Hajj pilgrims killed by swine flu

by Sara Levy

Four Muslim pilgrims have already died from swine flu on this year’s Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which officially starts on 25 November.

Three of the victims, from Sudan, India, and Morocco, were on their seventies. The other was a teenage girl from Nigeria.

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry said all four victims had underlying health problems such as cancer and respiratory illness, and none of them had been vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.

Sixteen others have also been taken ill with the virus; 12 have recovered, while four are in ‘critical condition’ in hospital.

Two and a half million Muslims are expected to visit Mecca this week for the Hajj pilgrimage, sparking fears in Saudi Arabia of a mass swine flu outbreak.

Thermal cameras have been installed at the country’s airports and sea terminals to detect infected people when they enter the country.

Some 15,000 extra health workers have also been deployed.

The Saudi government has encouraged vulnerable groups, including the elderly, pregnant women, and the chronically ill, to skip this year’s pilgrimage.

Performing the Hajj is a requirement of the Islamic faith, meaning that all Muslims must make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once.

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