Bird flu suspected at Moshav Kinneret

Birds tested, results expected Tuesday; CDC: No proof that Tamiflu is effective.

bird flu 88 (photo credit: )
bird flu 88
(photo credit: )
Despite the Agriculture Ministry's insistence that bird flu is "under control," the virus was found in two other locations in the South on Monday. In addition, Channel 2 reported that Moshav Kinneret in the North may also have been infected, and the fowl there have been tested, with results to be announced on Tuesday.
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The ministry confirmed that the H5N1 strain of bird flu was responsible for the deaths of poultry at Kibbutz Nir Oz and the community of Amioz in the western Negev. The two communities have been ordered to cull thousands of birds, as has the poultry processing plant "Of Kor" in She'ar Hanegev, which recently received shipments of poultry from Amioz. The two communities are very close to the two kibbutzim, Ein Hashlosha and Holit, where bird flu was identified last week. Yitzhak Idilstein, business manager of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he was doubtful whether the poultry industry would ever recover from the disease that hit the community late last week. "They are cleaning out the turkey pens and cars leaving the kibbutz have to be sprayed with water, but it is just a matter of time before the virus returns," said Idilstein, referring to the booming poultry business that was started by the kibbutz but that is now run by an outside company. "Israel is a station for migrating birds," he explained. "More than 500 million birds fly through Israel every year." He added, however, that kibbutz members were remaining calm even in the face of this disaster. "We had to cull the birds in the petting zoo, which was very sad, but the people here are not panicking," he said. "The carcasses are still being cleared away but people are getting on with their daily business." Uri Naamati, chairman of the Eshkol Regional Council, said Monday that the two communities of Nir Oz and Amir Oz, both in the area, had been infected with the virus. Former agriculture minister and Likud MK Yisrael Katz attacked the government's response to the outbreak Monday, accusing it of being negligent and giving unsupported facts to the public. While the Agriculture and Health Ministries have issued messages calming the public and encouraging the cooking of poultry and eggs, Katz said he had ceased to bring poultry products into his home, and called on the government to treat the disease as a state of national emergency. Chanoch Yoval, a poultry expert in the Negev, also criticized the Agriculture Ministry, saying that it wasn't destroying infected birds quickly enough. He added that the ministry hadn't even started destroying birds at Kibbutz Nahshon, which had also been hit by the disease. The Agriculture Ministry strongly denied Yoval's accusations. It said that up to a million birds on poultry farms in the South would be culled by the weekend, and that this should stop the spread of avian flu in the country. On Ein Hashlosha, Idilstein said that the bird carcasses were still being cleared away and that he was surprised the task had not been finished much faster. The head of the Poultry Growers' Organization, Ya'acov Cohen, joined in the calls to declare a state of emergency, claiming that "the only way to cover the damages is to declare that the avian influenza outbreak constitutes a national disaster." Cohen said that many of the growers were very concerned about their income and plagued by feelings of insecurity that the government would not support them financially. Under these circumstances, he warned, many growers may not follow the guidelines set by the Health and Agriculture ministries. Cohen's position was echoed by the secretaries of the Kibbutz Movement, Gavri Bar-Gil and Ze'ev Shor, who called on the government to declare areas affected by bird flu natural disaster zones and to act accordingly. Shor and Bar-Gil sent a letter both to the Knesset Finance Committee, which is scheduled to debate the issue of monetary compensation on Tuesday, and to make recommendations to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "We are appealing to you to immediately release funds to prevent the destruction of Israel's poultry industry," they said in the letter. They added that the disease was threatening the economic viability of the kibbutzim involved in the poultry business, particularly those in the peripheral areas. Bar-Gil said that the damage caused by the epidemic did not only affect the communities hit directly by the virus, but rather the wider poultry industry, which employs thousands of people in Israel. The Kibbutz Movement is calling for a declaration of "natural disaster" because it would set into motion a system that allows for funds to flow more smoothly, as well as activate a series of governmental options to help the poultry industry. Both groups also said that the NIS 15 million allocated by the cabinet on Sunday to help the poultry industry was not enough. An interministerial committee convened by Ilan Cohen, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, signed off on the budget, which will come from the Defense Ministry. The committee also received updates on the spread of avian flu to six sites throughout the country, as well as on the means of disposing of the stricken birds and the steps taken to prevent humans exposed to the disease from getting sick. A special situation room was established to continuously monitor developments and take necessary steps to contain the outbreak, the Prime Minister's Office announced. In addition, the IDF and the Agriculture Ministry will take and test blood samples from fowl in the Gaza Strip in order to monitor their health. Following the spread of bird flu in the South, IDF and veterinary officials met Monday afternoon with representatives of the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry. They updated the Palestinian officials on developments in Israel, and the Palestinians reiterated that there were no signs of bird flu in the Gaza Strip at this time. Both sides agreed to supply updates via a hotline. According to Ruth Pugatch, spokesperson for the Egg and Poultry Board, there will be a natural rise in the price of poultry for Pessah as there is prior to every major Jewish holiday. The price of eggs, she added, was controlled by the government. As of Monday afternoon, there was a sufficient supply of poultry for the holiday's needs, but given the fact that a lot of poultry was being destroyed she could not say what the situation would be later in the month. Elsewhere, the US Centers for Disease Control announced that there was no proof that the Tamiflu remedy would be effective as either a preventative measure or a cure in the event that bird flu turned into an epidemic among humans. US scientists have directed their efforts towards combating one form of the H5 virus, but the virus has mutated, and no medical solution currently exists for the second form. Tovah Lazaroff and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.