The lack of proper rabies control by Lebanon and Syria has contributed to a sharp increase in dogs and other animals in the North being infected with the deadly disease - over three times as many as in previous years - the Health Ministry said on Thursday.
When a person is infected by the saliva of a rabid mammal and is not vaccinated quickly, rabies brings a certain and very painful death.
So far, no Israeli has been infected for years, as those who have been in direct contact with rabid animals have received a series of anti-rabies shots. In the 1980s, a soldier in a tent in the North was bitten on the toe by a rabid rodent without being aware of the wound, and died of the disease.
The law requires that all dogs be vaccinated annually against rabies and that owners put them on a leash at all times outside the home.
Health Ministry public health experts said on Thursday that 32 cases of rabid animals had been reported since the beginning of 2009, compared to only 12 cases in the whole of 2008, 15 in 2007 and only nine in 2006.
World Rabies Awareness Day will be held on Monday. Every 10 minutes around the world, someone dies of rabies; half of the victims are children under the age of 15. This adds up to some 55,000 people a year.
Israel's Veterinary Service leaves chicken heads laced with oral vaccine against rabies for wolves and jackals to eat, as wolves are the most important vectors of the disease in Israel. Rabies in rodents or bats is very rare.
Despite prevention efforts, the ministry says that in the past year, a growing number of dogs have been infected with rabies by wild animals.
Animals that have been infected quickly show a change in their behavior, with friendly ones turning aggressive and aggressive ones becoming friendly, according to the ministry.
Many of them begin to roam over long distances, biting animals, humans and even objects. They foam at the mouth, and in the final stage, become paralyzed and suffer from tremors. Within four days of showing symptoms, they die.
The ministry advises people who want to pet an animal to ask its owner's permission. People should not adopt stray animals without bringing them to be examined by a veterinarian.
One should not try to save a sick animal, as wild animals that appear to be ill are often rabid. Instead, one should call the local municipal help line or the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Garbage cans should be closed well so as not to attract stray animals.