Israel confirms deadly H5N1 bird flu

Israel on Friday confirmed that the deadly H5N1 bird-flu strain had been found in thousands of poultry, as five people were admitted to hospital and the authorities moved to cull multiple flocks of fowl.

 

Battling the country’s first outbreak of bird flu, the authorities ordered poultry in a quarantined area in the southern Negev desert to be exterminated.

 

Moshe Haimovitch, director of veterinary services at the agriculture ministry, told reporters the deadly strain of the virus had been found in the kibbutzim of Ein Hashlosha and Holit, not far from the Gaza Strip.

 

Around 11 000 turkeys at the two farms have died in Israel’s first outbreak of bird flu since the virus swept Europe, central Asia and the Middle East.

 

Amid fears that the virus had already spread to the heart of Israel, a kibbutz between Jerusalem and the commercial capital Tel Aviv was sealed off and tests were being carried out after hundreds more birds were found dead.

 

Five people who came into contact with dead poultry in the Negev have been admitted to hospital in the southern desert city of Beersheva.

 

A Thai migrant worker was showing flu-like symptoms, while four Israelis were being kept under observation, a spokesman for the Soroka hospital told Agence France Presse.

 

Culling orders now hang over about 300 000 fowl in a 7km radius around the affected kibbutzim in the farming belt.

 

“We are preparing to kill the poultry in the area in the coming few days,” Haimovitch said, confirming that Israel had requested four million batches of flu vaccine from the Netherlands to safeguard against the virus spreading.

 

The authorities have quarantined Ein Hashlosha and Holit, east of Gaza and not far from the border with Egypt, along with two other kibbutzim, one of which also reported dead birds.

 

Tests were being conducted on hundreds of dead birds discovered at another farm in the kibbutz of Nakhshon, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which was similarly quarantined.

 

The H5N1 strain of bird flu, in its most aggressive form, has killed nearly 100 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation, and seen millions of birds destroyed, amounting to huge losses for farmers.

 

But the authorities have said the risk of bird flu in humans is slim, despite the reasonable risk of a pandemic in poultry.

 

Agriculture Minister Zeev Boim has sought to reassure Israelis that there is no concern about chicken or turkey meat, or cooked eggs.

 

On February 17, Israel imposed a ban on all meat imports from Gaza following the discovery of the deadly H5N1 strain in Egypt.

 

But the Palestinians reiterated on Friday that there had still been no cases of bird flu in the territories.

 

The outbreak in Egypt saw flocks destroyed and transport restrictions imposed to stem the spread of a disease that has cost the industry around $1,7-million a day.—AFP

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