The Environmental Protection Ministry, together with the Health Ministry, will launch a program to fight the spread of the serious skin disease leishmaniasis, which has recently spread westward to cities and towns from Tiberias to Dimona, along the Jordan Valley.

Dubbed “Rose of Jericho,” the disease is caused by protozoan parasites that belong to the genus Leishmania and is transmitted by the bite of female sand fly that bite infected rodents called rock hyraxes.

The cabinet approved the program this week. Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common form of leishmaniasis, while visceral leishmaniasis is a severe form in which the parasites have migrated to the vital organs. The infection appears as red sores (hence its nickname) on the skin a few weeks or months after being bitten by the sand fly that erupt weeks to months after the person affected is bitten by sand flies. The infection can also damage the liver and spleen and cause anemia. The sores can cause permanent, ugly scars if untreated.

The government decided to invest NIS 10 million in the effort, with municipalities and local authorities where the sand flies have spread to receive money to buy fly traps and run public information campaigns to minimize infection.

Localities that are known to have infected hyraxes will be surrounded with fences to bar their entry. In the past decade, more than 1,650 Israelis from 50 communities have been diagnosed with the disease.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said leishmaniasis affects children and adults and can leave them with disfigurement and worse. Infected sandflies have been identified in hot areas around Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), on the hills of Judea and Samaria, and in central Galilee, the Beit She’an Valley, Gush Etzion, Elkana, the Ramat Hanegev and the Arava.

The money will be spent over three years. Individuals can purchase sand flies repellants, install screens on windows and wear long, light clothing to protect the skin from bites.

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