Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hajj ideal incubator for the H1N1 flu virus

Like many here, Mikail Ocasio, a 28-year-old pilgrim from Maryland, dismissed the swine flu worries.

"No disease was going to stop me from making my hajj," he said. "Allah made the call to me and made it available and nothing is going to stop me."

SHOOT: So is the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
clipped from

MINA, Saudi Arabia — Millions of Muslim pilgrims, many wearing surgical masks, jostled together shoulder-to-shoulder furiously casting pebbles at stone walls representing the devil Saturday — the hajj ritual of highest concern to world health authorities watching for an outbreak of swine flu.

The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws 3 million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world and an ideal incubator for the H1N1 flu virus.

So far, only around 60 flu cases have been uncovered, but health officials warn it is likely spreading silently among pilgrims — and the true extent of the push that hajj has given to the virus won't be known until later, after the faithful have returned to their home countries around the world.

The stoning of the devil ritual, performed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, is when the crowds of pilgrims at the five-day hajj are at their height and contact between them is closest.

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