Saudi Arabia and Swine Flu: Current Status

This article will not be discussing Swine Flu/H1N1 virus in details but rather will address the current status of Swine Flu in Saudi Arabia in addition to some educational tips. For more information visit the Wikipedia 2009 Flu Pandemic Page or Center of Disease Control H1N1 Flu Page

First of all, let’s address the nomenclature. There have been a lot of debate that Swine Flu is not an accurate name to describe the condition caused by the H1N1 virus which is a mutation of four strains of influenza virus, two of which are endemic in pigs. However, for easier reference, Swine Flu in this article will be addressed as such.

There have been over 300 reported cases of Swine Flu in Saudi Arabia to this date with 4 unfortunate fatalities. There could be even more than 300 cases documented but the Ministry of Health have decided that it will not publish daily counts of the disease unless there are specific causes to do so because most of those cases are considered mild. However, the Ministry is keeping track of those numbers to monitor the progress of the disease.

The 4 deaths occurring in 3 different regions of the kingdom are sparking alarm. The first fatality was of a 30-year old Saudi man who passed away in Dammam, Eastern Province, despite hospitalization and treatment with antiviral medications. The second fatality also occurred in the Eastern Province and it was of an Indonesian expatriate who was 28 years old. The 3rd case was of Saudi male nurse in Al-Qasseem who was 32 years old. The last one to reported was in the Northern region of a 25-year old Saudi man.

These numbers are particularly alarming when we consider the fact that Hajj season is just around the corner. Pilgrimage usually takes place one time a year during Dhu al-Hijjah which the month of Hajj according to the Hijri Islamic calender. It is only 3 months away and plenty of those hoping to perform Hajj will be start visiting the holy cities starting from the month of Ramadan and afterwards.

The ministry of health has again confirmed that it has a clear strategy regarding this year’s Hajj season of which the cases of Swine Flu are expected to escalate. One of the first steps of control is that the Arab Health Ministries in their meeting in July in agreement with the Saudi Ministry of Health has decided to prevent certain vulnerable groups from performing Hajj this year including but not limited to: Men over 65 years of age, children under 12, patients with chronic debilitating diseases and pregnant women.

World Health Organization also has issued its recommendations for the Swine Flu vaccine that is expected to be available at the end of 2009, which prioritize the following groups to receive it: Household contacts of children younger than 6 months, Children and young people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, Health-care workers and emergency medical service personnel and those with conditions that increase the risk of complications from influenza. It is also recommended to take the seasonal flu vaccine in addition.

There have been reports that hospitals in Makkah are not well equipped to deal with the large number of pilgrims expected this year, nearly 2 millions, with insufficient amounts of antiviral medications and seemingly absence of required vaccines. The Ministry of Health is currently working on this.

One of the main issues in Saudi Arabia is the lack of health education. There have not been much reports or public messages to increase the public;s knowledge of this condition, how to prevent it, when to seek medical attention and to rectify many of the misconceptions regarding this disease, one of which I have heard of myself; we can’t have swine flu here in Saudi Arabia because we don’t have pigs! More effort should be put in this area to educate the public especially now when Hajj season is near.

Now is Swine Flu a well staged play that is not actually worrisome? Some of you are well aware that the “regular” Influenza virus kills over thousands if not tens of thousands of people every winter each year. So why the worry from Swine Flu which its international death toll is not over a thousand yet? Well, the facts that its spread is more rapid than the usual strains in addition to the fatalities that happened to young men and women that were considered healthy otherwise. However, you do not need to panic.

Just take a quick look at the two links I have posted above and follow the required precautions and inshallah you’ll be just fine. May God keep you safe and healthy!

PS. You are free to eat pigs since its consumption does not lead to Swine Flu. However, it is Haram you know!

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