MINA, Saudi Arabia – Five people died from swine flu during the hajj, Saudi Arabia said 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 percent of the some 2.5 million pilgrims were vaccinated against the virus.
Health officials circulated among the tent camp at Mina where the pilgrims lived and gave cheek swabs for testing later. They also placed hand sanitizer dispensers in the camps, near public bathrooms and at ritual sites, while pilgrims arriving at airports were scanned with a thermal camera and offered vaccine.
On Sunday, Muslim pilgrims performed the hajj’s final ritual at the cube-shaped Kaaba – Islam’s holiest shrine. After three days of throwing stones at walls in the desert valley of Mina in a symbolic rejection of Satan’s temptation, millions of pilgrims crammed into buses and trucks for the short trip back to Mecca to circle the Kaaba, marking the traditional end of the hajj.