The annual Muslim haj pilgrimage has ended without the major flu outbreak feared by some experts and with only five deaths from the H1N1 flu virus out of 73 recorded cases, the Saudi health minister said.

In remarks broadcast on Al Arabiya television on Monday, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Rabeeah said five pilgrims had died of the virus in the days leading up to and during the haj rituals, which began on Wednesday.

Around 1.6 million pilgrims came from abroad for this year's haj, the world's largest regular religious gathering and a duty for all Muslims to perform at least once if possible.

Disease experts from the United States and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, said there was a possibility that waves of the H1N1 flu virus spread by pilgrims traveling to and from Mecca for this year's haj could put pressure on healthcare systems around the world.

The pilgrimage provides perfect conditions for the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, which is transmitted by sneezing and physical contact.