Israel Raises Swine Flu Alert

Israel's Health Ministry has raised its alert level from Level 3 to Level 4 in connection with the rising worldwide epidemic of swine flu.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 10:00

Anatomy of a flu virus
Anatomy of a flu virus
Israel News Photo: (Wikimedia Commons)

Israel's Health Ministry has raised the national alert level from 3 to 4, in a range of 6, in response to the rapidly spreading worldwide epidemic of swine flu. Ministry Director-General Avi Israeli said, however, that the category change means little for civilians. The current alert is relevant only to health care professionals, those who operate privately and in the health maintenance systems, who were ordered to step up their precautions against any outbreak of the virus.

Top Ministry of Health officials met Tuesday afternoon to discuss preparedness plans for the swine flu virus. The meeting included members of the ministry’s Infectious disease treatment team.

“We must assure our level of preparedness. Most steps have already been taken, but we are looking to the future and meeting to insure we are ready for all situations,” said Health Ministry Deputy Director Dr. Boaz Lev.

Director of Public Health Services, Dr. Itamor Groto, discussed Israel’s confirmed cases of the virus: “We are aware of all cases and those who were in contact with the infected individuals. While it is contained, we encouraged people who are not feeling well to seek medical attention.”

The Health Ministry also confirmed that 26-year-old Tomer Vagim, who was admitted to Laniado Hospital in Netanya on Sunday, is infected with swine flu.

Vagim was hospitalized in an isolation unit after showing signs of the virus upon his return from a working trip to Mexico. On Tuesday laboratory tests confirmed he caught the virus during his stay, becoming the first known case of swine flu in Israel. Vagim is reported in good condition.

A second person who may also be infected, a 49-year-old male who returned Sunday from Mexico, is hospitalized in an isolation unit at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba.

The Israeli alert upgrade mirrored a similar move by the World Health Organization (WHO), which raised its alert level to Phase 4, indicating the spread of the virus has reached the point of "community-level outbreaks" -- the global pandemic level.

But although Phase 4 normally calls for closing borders and issuing travel bans, the WHO's emergency committee has refrained from making those recommendations. It did, however, recommend abandoning the effort to contain the spread of the epidemic. "Because the virus is already quite widespread in different locations, containment is not a feasible option," the Geneva-based WHO deputy director general Dr. Keiji Fukuda told The New York Times.

Confirmed cases of the infection have been reported in Mexico, where the rapidly developing pandemic began, as well as in the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Spain, and New Zealand. In Mexico, at least 149 deaths from influenza have been reported; of those, seven were confirmed from the swine flu strain, according to the WHO website. Ironically, there were more laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu reported in the United States -- 40, according to the WHO -- than in Mexico.

Two suspected cases of swine flu were reported on Sunday and Monday in Israel, with more possible cases in Australia, Brazil and several Asian nations as well. A total of 40 suspected cases were reported in Europe, according to the Stockholm-based European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Hong Kong Health Secretary York Chow issued a statement early Tuesday saying his city had "activated its serious level of response" and was "geared towards managing escalating risk." Hong Kong is major gateway between East and West for business travelers and tourists who fly on international routes.

In the United States, 28 of the 40 confirmed cases of the virus were from one preparatory high school in Queens, New York. The others were reported in Manhattan, and elsewhere around the country.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a test kit for the virus that is being sent out to various countries around the world in order to facilitate confirmation of the diagnosis.