Israel to give PA bird flu medication

"We are so close to them, and I don't know if they will deal with it properly."

By ORLY HALPERN, JPOST STAFF
March 21, 2006 11:21
Israel to give PA bird flu medication

bird flu israel map 298. (photo credit: )

 
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Health Minister Ya'akov Edri directed his ministry to give the Palestinian Authority 300 doses of 'Tamiflu' tablets, which are designed to combat the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus. The medicine will be transferred to the Gaza Strip by means of the District Coordination Office (DCO) at the Erez checkpoint. The decision to give the PA the medicine came as a result of a request issued by a World Health Organization official to the Health Ministry. Initial tests conducted on the dead chickens from Gaza indicated that the H5N1 strain of bird flu has spread to Gaza, the first outbreak of the disease in the Palestinian Authority territories, Israel's Agriculture Ministry said Wednesday. In addition, following concern Wednesday that the virus had spread to the Jordan Valley, the H5N1 strain was confirmed Thursday morning in Moshav Beka'ot. However, in Netaim, in central Israel, the virus was not yet confirmed. The Gaza tests were conducted after about 200 chickens were found dead in a coop in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip early Wednesday, ministry spokeswoman Dafna Yarisca said. The PA said the dead chickens were found in a private farm in eastern Gaza. It was not immediately clear if they were talking about two different cases. Although final results will not be available for at least 48 hours, the ministry has advised the PA to treat the initial results as definitive because they came up positive for the H5 protein, Yarisca said. Further tests will determine if it is H5N1. Uri Na'amati, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, near Gaza, told The Jerusalem Post that "the discovery of bird flu in Gaza changes everything. We are so close to them, and I do not know if they will deal with the problem like it should be dealt with. It definitely complicates things." Israeli veterinarians met with their Palestinian counterparts yesterday to discuss how best to deal with the problem, said Na'amati, adding that every kibbutz and community with poultry in the Eshkol region was under constant inspection to ensure that the H5N1 strain did not continue spreading. Deputy PA Agriculture Minister Azzam Tubaili said the infected Gaza farms will be isolated. "We're taking this very seriously," he said, adding that the farm owners are being tested to ensure they have not been infected. Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian communities along the Jordan Valley were also quick to react to possible cases of bird flu in their region. Leaders of the Jewish communities held an emergency meeting Wednesday to draw up a plan of action for their chicken-coop heavy region after a number of dead birds were discovered in Moshav Beka'ot, in the Jordan Valley Regional Council. Yael Shaltieli, head of the neighboring Beit She'an Valley Regional Council, expressed fear that the deadly virus would spread to her district. "It's very close, but thank God it hasn't reached us yet," she said. The Beit She'an Valley is home to the Of Tov chicken slaughterhouse, the largest in the country. While most of the poultry farms in the Jordan Valley are in Jewish settlements, the one Palestinian village in the area which raises eggs may have been hit. Adnan Hammad, a Jericho city council member of, told the Post that "three days ago, they found some dead birds in Ouja, a few kilometers north of Jericho. The Israelis came and took the birds, but we received no word of the results. There are a few egg farms in Ouja. I think there is cooperation with the Israelis because we don't have laboratories to examine those things." In the Jordanian town of Saffi, one dead bird was also found three days ago. The Jordanian government is setting up an emergency center in Saffi, Munqeth Mehyar, chairperson of Friends of the Earth Middle East, said. "The center is being established to react quickly to any future cases north or south of there, he told the Post while here Wednesday for a meeting to discuss a joint Jordanian-Israeli peace park at the Jordan River. Not far from Kibbutz Nahshon, where bird flu was detected last week, representatives of Kibbutz Tzora, close to Beit Shemesh, said that things were calm. "The media is exaggerating," said one worker. "The Veterinary Service is constantly checking our poultry, only the kibbutz workers are allowed in and out of the coops and everyone is cleaning off afterward." Kibbutz secretary Miriam Lapid said that while there was no sign so far of the bird flu, "we are worried because poultry is one of our main sources of income." Bracha Rager, a senior Ben-Gurion University microbiology and immunology professor, said the avian flu virus is unpredictable and too little is known by scientists about how it mutates. But because the virulent strain has hit the West, she stressed, it has gotten the world's attention. "Hundreds, if not thousands of people have died of something similar to West Nile virus in the Reunion Island region in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, but nobody has gotten excited because it [only] affected the developing world," she said. Rager, a former chief scientist in the Health Ministry who has developed a passive vaccine against West Nile that has been proven effective in lab animals, and is now working on an active vaccine, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the amount of panic over pathogens is not necessarily in proportion to the amount of publicity they get. "Infectious diseases go in waves of interest, depending on whom they hurt, not according to real risks," she said. "If there weren't fear about avian flu reaching the Western world, nobody would get excited. Today it is in the center of interest, even though mortality is low. Measles kills hundreds of thousands of children in Africa each year, but you don't hear of it. Avian flu has infected 200 and killed about half, but you certainly have been hearing about it." But she said scientists don't know enough about avian flu virus - of which there are 15 strains, one of them able to be transmitted by poultry and birds to people in direct contact with them - to develop a vaccine to protect humans from it. What worries public health officials is that a strain of avian flu virus will mutate, like the "swine flu" virus that killed millions around the world some 90 years ago, and spread by people-to-people transmission, she said. Judy Siegel and AP contributed to this report.

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