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EGYPT: First swine flu death confirmed

July 20, 2009 |  7:03 am

_45915783_egypt226apA 25-year-old woman became the first Egyptian to die of swine flu after she caught the H1N1 virus while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian Ministry of Health announced. Samah El Sayed Selim flew to Mecca in early July and days later was diagnosed with the virus. She didn’t respond to medical treatments in the kingdom and returned to Egypt last week. 

"She was taken straight to a hospital in El Gharebya [province] once she arrived. She was already suffering from rheumatic fever, lack of oxygen in the blood and a stroke and died on Saturday," the Ministry of Health's statement read. The statement added that all Egyptians returning from pilgrimage would be quarantined.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health announced that 10 new H1N1 cases were reported on Sunday, raising Egypt's tally to 130 cases since the virus was officially discovered on June 2. While confirming that 70% of the infected cases are foreigners or people with dual nationalities, the ministry said that 76 have recovered from the virus.

The Egyptian government was internationally criticized in May for culling more than 300,000 pigs nationwide in a move that authorities believed would minimize the virus' effect. The threat of swine flu has recently led to the cancellation of dozens of religious ceremonies in Egypt, where hundreds can gather at annual events to pay tribute to historic religious figures, such as the prophet Muhammad's granddaughter, Sayeda Zeinab.

Selim's death comes a few days before the Arab foreign ministers' proposed meeting to discuss the effect of swine flu on the upcoming pilgrimage season. More than 3 million Muslims are expected to visit Saudi Arabia during the holy month of Ramadan in August as well as the Hajj two months later.

Saudi Arabia has a total of 294 reported H1N1 infections, but a number of Arab and Muslim clerics, including Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, have said they will not issue a decree preventing people from making the pilgrimage this year.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Some Egyptians are taking precautions in an attempt to avoid catching swine flu. Credit: Associated Press