Swine Flu Suspected in Israel

An Israeli who returned from Mexico with viral symptoms was hospitalized in Netanya on Sunday. Health officials are testing for swine flu.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 13:20

Laniado Hospital in Netanya
Laniado Hospital in Netanya
Israel News Photo: (courtesy of Laniado Hospital)

Two suspected cases of swine flu have reached Israel, both through travelers who returned from trips abroad in Mexico.

A 25-year-old Israeli who returned with viral symptoms was hospitalized Sunday in Netanya amid fears that he may have contracted the swine flu. Tomer Vagim, who was admitted to Laniado Hospital, has been placed in isolation while he is being tested for the potentially fatal disease that has swept across Mexico. It won't be known for another three days whether Vagim, a resident of Moshav Geulim, has the swine flu strain or a more ordinary form of influenza.

The second patient, a 49-year-old Israeli who returned Sunday from Mexico, was hospitalized Monday at the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba after showing signs of the disease. He, too, was placed in isolation until his condition could be verified by laboratory tests. 

Symptoms of the swine flu include respiratory distress, coughing or shortness of breath, combined with high fever and throat pain. A person may be considered at risk of carrying the disease if they were also present in Mexico, or any other area where the disease has been identified, at any time during a seven-day period prior to the appearance of their symptoms.

Health Minister: 'Call it Mexico Flu'
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman  suggested that in Israel the disease be called “Mexico Flu,” since Jewish religious law proscribes the ingestion of pork.

Litzman also suggested that Israelis refrain from traveling to Mexico. “Whoever doesn’t have critical business in Mexico, Israel is excellent. What do we lack here? We’re not saying it is forbidden to go, but the wise person should act carefully,” he said.

Health Ministry Director-General Avi Yisraeli also said that the public should be aware of the dangers of the disease, but at the same time emphasized that there is no need to panic. Nonetheless, the ministry issued standard alerts for the disease to hospitals, health maintenance organizations (kupot holim) and medical clinics around the country.

Magen David Adom (MDA) also warned its medical personnel to avoid accepting Blood Bank donations from travelers who in the past week had visited areas in which the swine flu has been reported.

At present, Litzman noted that Israel has enough anti-viral medicine to treat 18 percent of the population, and is working to raise that level to 25 percent. 

WHO: 'Potential to Reach Pandemic Proportions'
At least 103 people have died in Mexico and more than 1,300 others have fallen ill with the virulent H1N1 strain of the flu since last week. The World Health Organization issued an alert to health authorities to member nations, warning that the rapid spread of the disease has the potential to reach "pandemic proportions."

In light of the grave situation, the Israeli Embassy in Mexico City cancelled its annual Memorial Day events, held to honor fallen IDF soldiers, according to a foreign ministry spokesman. The decision was made in order "to avoid taking any unecessary risks" of contracting the illness as a result of attending a public gathering.

Foreign Ministry officials asked Israeli travelers who are already in Mexico or have included that country in their itinerary to maintain personal hygiene, avoid restaurants with questionable sanitary standards and above all, avoid all public assemblies.

By Sunday night, the epidemic had already raced across the United States, traveling from California and Texas to Kansas, Ohio and New York.  Within a day, the number of reported cases had leaped from two to 20.

Officials decided to close a high school in Queens, New York on Monday after the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed eight cases of the disease among the student population. More than 100 of the school’s students had reported flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC interim deputy director for science and health programs, told reporters in a conference call late Sunday that the virus appears to be affecting mostly younger adults at present.

The Obama administration wasted no time in declaring a public health emergency Sunday as a “precautionary move.” The decision triggered the release of 12.5 million treatment courses of the anti-viral medications Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir), equaling a quarter of the national stockpile. 

Tamiflu, which must be administered within the first 12 to 24 hours after flu symptoms first appear, is the standard anti-viral medication used in Israel.