Thousands Risk Flu for Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca

''It was our hope that countries would have listened to our advice and recommendations that we have put back in June," the Saudi health minister said. "Unfortunately, some countries did not abide by those regulations, namely elderly and young children people with associated diseases that affect their immunity like heart and kidney and liver disease and also they did not follow the vaccination guidelines for H1N1.''

Working feverishly since it became a pandemic, Saudi health officials have reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help.

Dr. Shahul Ebrahim of the CDC said the agency is sharing its disease and surveillance expertise, as well as a system used during Hurricane Katrina to control the virus.

"There is no more stopping the spreading," he said. "What we do with a pandemic, whether it's the U.S., China or Saudi Arabia Hajj or Olympics, is to mitigate ... to reduce the burden. ... Instead of having 100 cases, we'd like to see 20 or 15. We cannot say we will have 0 cases, that is impossible.''

Is It Already Too Late for Prevention?

Detecting the virus begins in the kingdom's entry ports. As soon as the pilgrims arrive, they are greeted by health officials. Using sophisticated technology to check their temperatures, officials will closely monitored pilgrims for a seven-day isolation period if they show flu-like symptoms.

Otherwise, they are given packs including masks, hand sanitizers and information about the H1N1 virus.

As for whether it's too late for prevention, "We will have enough data to answer that question, at the moment we cannot answer that question because it requires extensive laboratories and examinations," Ebrahim of the CDC said. "It will take a few days but we will have the answer to that question as we analyze specimens.''

Whatever the answer, Ebrahim and the Saudi health minister said, the pilgrims who begin their final journey home could be carrying a more virulent strain of the virus.

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