BAGHDAD — Fifty-one American troops in Iraq have been diagnosed with and treated for swine flu, while another 71 soldiers remain in isolation suspected of contracting the potentially deadly virus, the U.S. military said Sunday.
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The figures were released as Iraqi health officials confirmed Sunday the country's first swine flu death.
A woman in the southern holy Shiite city of Najaf died of the disease, raising fears about a possible outbreak among worshippers making pilgrimages to the revered sites.
All the 51 U.S. troops diagnosed with the flu have fully recovered, while the 71 suspect cases are in isolation, said Col. Michael D. Eisenhauer, the chief of clinical operations in Iraq.
"All personnel are screened for signs and symptoms of influenza prior to entering Iraq, in an effort to limit the spread of the H1N1 virus to this region," Eisenhauer told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
He said those who later develop a fever, sore throat or cough are tested, and put into isolation if suspected of swine flu.
It was not immediately known whether the diagnosed and suspected cases were confined to a single U.S. base, or whether they were spread across Iraq.
The U.S. has previously said it would report any cases of the virus to the Iraqi government under an agreement between the two countries.
Meanwhile, 28 cases of swine flu have been confirmed among Iraqis, including the 21-year-old woman who died from the virus in Najaf, said Dr. Ihsan Jaafar, a health ministry spokesman.
The woman, who was not identified, died on Wednesday, Jaafar said. He also said the woman routinely visited a major shrine there before being diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, and quarantined.
Hajj could hasten spread
The spread of swine flu in the Arab world has raised concerns about the region's ability to control the virus' spread among millions expected to attend this year's hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Already, Arab health ministers have banned children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses from attending the hajj. There are similar concerns in Iraq over the hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims who make journeys to pray at shrines in Najaf and Karbala.
An aide to Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, told worshippers during Friday prayers at the Imam al-Hussein shrine in Karbala that health officials must take measures to control the swine flu.
"We are calling on medical officials to be more prepared for such cases and supply the needed medicine," Ahmed al-Safi said.
In Karbala, health officials handed out masks and gloves during a recent festival honoring a 9th Century Shiite imam, or saint.
North of Baghdad, in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, Iraqi and U.S. medical professionals held a conference to outline a response to a possible swine flu outbreak as well as a prevention and treatment plan.
A public health campaign using posters and radio call-in shows are being used in some parts of Iraq to educate people about swine flu prevention.
The World Health Organization, as of July 31, had tallied more than 162,000 swine flu cases worldwide. It counted at least 1,154 deaths, with more than 1,000 reported in the Americas, according to its Web site.
In May, 18 U.S. soldiers on their way to Iraq were diagnosed with swine flu in Kuwait. They recovered after treatment on an American base in Kuwait and left the country.
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