LONDON-Waves of H1N1 swine flu spread by some three million pilgrims traveling to and from Mecca for next month's haj threaten to pile pressure on healthcare systems around the world, disease experts said on Thursday.
"No region can be considered free from risk," said the U.S. and Arab experts, including Saudi Arabia's deputy minister for preventative medicine, in a study in the journal Science.
The pilgrimage itself, in the last week of November, provides perfect conditions for the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, which is transmitted in droplets and by physical contact."The density of pilgrims, the nature of the rituals, and the shoulder-to-shoulder contact recommended during prayers provide a perfect transmission atmosphere," wrote Shahul Ebrahim of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Ziad Memish of Saudi Arabia's health ministry.
Around 3 million pilgrims from more than 160 countries take part in the haj in the holy city of Mecca most years, including up to 2 million who travel from abroad...