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Swine Flu: Israel Raises Alert, New Measures in Effect

Health Ministry raises Israel's level of alert due to swine flu; authorities roll out dramatic new measures to keep illness from spreading.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 4/30/2009, 10:04 PM

Israel News Photo: file

The Health Ministry announced Thursday that it has raised Israel's alert level to Phase 5, the second-highest on the scale, following the discovery of two new suspected cases of swine flu in the Jewish State. Two cases have been confirmed to date, but another four suspected cases were found not to be of the swine flu strain.

Following a meeting with senior officials at the Health Ministry, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a series of orders aimed at preventing the illness from spreading. Among the new measures are the establishment of a temporary clinic in Ben Gurion airport, the stationing of doctors at Israel's borders, and a mandatory trip to the emergency room for travelers from Mexico suffering from flu-like symptoms.

The confirmed cases of swine flu in Israel were both diagnosed in people who had recently visited Mexico, where the illness was first reported. In order to prevent recent visitors to Mexico from spreading the illness, all people entering Israel will be asked if they have visited that country within the past week.

Those who have will be asked to undergo medical examination, to be performed by doctors who will be stationed at all crossing points at Israel's borders. A special clinic was set up Thursday in Ben Gurion International Airport to deal with incoming passengers from Mexico.

Any person entering Israel who states that he or she has been in Mexico within the past seven days, and who suffers from a fever and exhibits one other flu-like symptom -- such as coughing, a sore throat, or difficulty breathing – will be sent to an emergency room for further examination. If travelers exhibiting flu-like symptoms refuse to cooperate, doctors will have the power to forcibly hospitalize them.

Travelers returning from Mexico who do not exhibit symptoms will be asked to maintain a self-imposed quarantine, avoiding public transportation and remaining home for one week. At this stage, travelers returning from other countries will not be required to undergo an examination or to avoid crowded areas. However, if travelers to other countries begin to experience flu-like symptoms, they will be asked to seek treatment.

Anyone who has been in contact with a person suffering from swine flu is asked to avoid crowds.

The Health Ministry announced Thursday that it had begun distributing information on preventing the spread of swine flu. The public will be informed of the symptoms of the illness, and will be asked to take cautionary measures and to maintain personal hygiene.

No Budget Limit on Treatment
The Health Ministry has been ordered to store medicines to fight the flu without regard to budget. On Tuesday, Netanyahu ordered Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to increase the supplies of the anti-viral medication Tamiflu to an amount sufficient to treat 30 percent of the population.

Israel currently has a relatively high amount of the vaccine, and has more than met the World Health Organization standards regarding the recommended ratio of flu vaccine to population. While there is no vaccine for swine flu at this time, there are vaccines for similar viruses that are thought to help prevent the spread of swine flu as well.

Travel Restrictions Announced
Health Ministry Director-General Avi Yisraeli also announced Thursday that Israelis are advised not to travel to Mexico, which has been hardest-hit by the swine flu. The Foreign Ministry plans to issue a travel warning as well.

In addition, the Foreign Ministry is planning to halt delegations to Mexico until further notice.