Baghdad: A woman who made routine visits to a Shiite shrine in southern Iraq has died of swine flu, making it the first death from the deadly virus in the country, a health ministry official said on Sunday.
There have been 67 cases of swine flu confirmed in Iraq, including 39 cases among American troops, said Dr Ihsan Ja'afar, a health ministry spokesman.
The US military did not immediately respond to the claim. But the US has previously said it would report any cases of the virus to the Iraqi government under an agreement between the two countries.
The woman, who was not identified, died on Wednesday in the southern holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, said Ja'afar. He also said the woman routinely visited a major shrine there before being diagnosed with swine flu and quarantined.
The spread of swine flu in the Arab world has raised concerns about the ability to control the spread of the virus among the millions expected to attend this year's Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Already health ministers have banned children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses from attending the Haj. There are similar concerns in Iraq over the hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims who make journeys to pray at shrines.
An aide to Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, told worshippers during Friday prayers at the Imam Al Hussain 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," Ahmad Al Safi said.
In Karbala, health officials handed out masks and gloves during a recent festival honoring a 9th Century imam, or saint.
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 Website.
In May, 18 US 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.