WHO discusses World Cup flu risks with SA

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The World Health Organisation is discussing with South Africa’s government how to reduce the risk of H1N1 influenza spreading at next year’s soccer World Cup, a spokeswomen for the UN agency said today.
The talks are part of WHO efforts to avoid having mass public gatherings fan the flames of the pandemic flu which has so far infected mainly young people and caused most hospitalisation and deaths among pregnant women, the already sick and the obese, Reuters reports.
“We are looking at the government’s plans and all those measures that they are putting in place to deal with any kind of disease outbreak that could happen with the World Cup,” WHO spokeswoman Aphaluck Bhatiasevi told a news briefing.
The tournament will be played in June and July 2010 the height of the seasonal flu period in the southern hemisphere winter. About 450 000 tourists are expected to travel to South Africa for soccer’s showpiece event.
At the last World Cup, in Germany in 2006, the WHO advised fans to ensure they were vaccinated against measles to avoid exposure to the disease spreading in some European schools.
Bhatiasevi said the H1N1 flu, declared a global pandemic by the WHO in June, remained “moderate” to date and was causing mild symptoms in most patients so far.
The new virus has spread to the most remote corners of the world and is thought to have infected millions of people, though countries are no longer testing and reporting each infection. At least 816 people have died from it.
Saudia Arabia has recommended that those at risk of severe illness from the virus, known as swine flu, should reconsider whether to attend the haj pilgrimage this year.
Saudi Arabia is preparing to host hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims later this year in September and November. It announced its first death from swine flu on Monday.
Earlier this month, Arab health ministers agreed to restrict people over the age of 65 and below 12 and the chronically sick from performing the haj this year.
Bhatiasevi said this guidance stemmed from a meeting organised by the Saudi government in May.
“There was a recommendation that people who could be considered high-risk population groups, for example pregnant women or people with underlying health conditions or children, should reconsider going for the pilgrimage this year,” she said.