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Swine flu fears for World Cup

THE World Health Organization is discussing with South Africa's government how to reduce the risk of swine flu spreading at next year's football World Cup, a spokeswoman for the United Nations agency said yesterday.

The talks are part of WHO efforts to avoid having mass public gatherings fan the flames of the pandemic which has so far infected mainly young people and caused hospitalization and deaths among pregnant women, the already sick and the obese.

"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 said.

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 the 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 flu, declared a global pandemic 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.

Saudi Arabia has recommended that those at risk of severe illness from the H1N1 virus should reconsider whether to attend the haj pilgrimage this year.

The country 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.


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