Israel bird flu scare proves unfounded

Tests for H5N1 strain negative in Sur Baher patient whose poultry recently died.

The lab at Hadassah University Medical Center found on Monday night that a 50-year-old east Jerusalem man who developed flu symptoms and who raises chickens - five of which died in the past few days - does not have the deadly avian flu strain. In making the announcement the Health Ministry said it was waiting for confirmation from the infections diseases lab at Sheba Medical Center, but expected that the results would be the same. The man, who lives in the village of Tzur Baher, was hospitalized in isolation at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem as a precautionary measure. The Agriculture Ministry Veterinary Service has not yet released the results of tests of the dead chickens. Poultry can die from a variety of causes, including Newcastle disease, which is common in the region but does not harm humans. There is no cure for avian flu, which is spread by direct contact between infected poultry or birds and humans but so far has not mutated into a strain that can be spread from person to person. It kills about half of humans infected by birds with 79 people having died worldwide in the past year, including several children in Turkey during the past two weeks. There has been no confirmed report of the avian flu strain H5N1 in Israel this winter, although it was reported in birds here in previous years. It did not, however, infect humans. A few weeks ago, a man in the north who works with birds complained of flu symptoms but lab tests showed he had not contracted the H5N1 virus. He recovered uneventfully. Meanwhile, Dr. Yossi Leshem, a Tel Aviv University ornithologist and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration told reporters that the virus could have arrived in Israel from abroad. "It is quite possible that some birds, such as cranes, ducks and cormorants, have recently arrived. There is also the possibility that a bird carrying the disease arrived in November and is wintering in Israel. The avian flu could have been incubated since then," Leshem said.