| Updated at: 1734 PST, Wednesday, October 13, 2010|
RIYADH: Swine flu killed three people in Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks, the health ministry said on Tuesday, while playing down the threat from the disease ahead of next month's hajj pilgrimage.
"There are three cases (of death), but that's normal -- this is the season," ministry spokesman Khaled Marghlani said.
Marghlani said the pace of infection from the A(H1N1) flu virus, which sparked fears of a global pandemic last year, was now not distinguishable from generic flu infections.
He said that no special swine flu precautions were being taken for the hajj, as some two million or more Muslims began arriving in the country this week for the annual pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in early November.
Pilgrims were being strongly urged to get seasonal vaccinations for flu, which this year include coverage for swine flu, as recommended by the World Health Organization, Marghlani said.
"The WHO said you should deal with this flu just the same as the regular flu," he said.
H1N1 caused about 18,500 laboratory-confirmed deaths across the world between its first appearance in Mexico and the United States in April 2009 and August 2010, according to WHO figures.
Because many cases were not clinically diagnosed, the actual number of deaths is likely significantly more, WHO officials have said.
Saudi Arabia recorded 124 deaths last year from H1N1 influenza and infections estimated in the low tens of thousands, much less than had been feared.
Extensive vaccination and monitoring programmes were set in place to prevent the spread of the flu as millions jammed together for hajj rituals.
The H1N1 pandemic was officially declared over in August by WHO, Dr. Langoya Opoka of the WHO regional office in Cairo said.
"That doesn't mean the virus is not here, it is still circulating, and it will continue to causes illnesses and may cause death," he said.
"It is no longer considered a pandemic virus, but it may cause small isolated outbreaks just like other seasonal flu strains."