The Agriculture Ministry confirmed early Monday afternoon 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 Shear Hanegev, which recently received shipments of poultry from Amioz.
The two communities are very close to the other locations where bird flu was identified last week.
Chanoch Yoval, a poultry expert in the Negev, criticized the Agriculture Ministry, saying that it was not destroying infected birds quickly enough. He added that the ministry hasn't even begun destroying birds at Kibbutz Nachshon.
The Agriculture Ministry denied Yoval's accusations.
The spread of the disease, which has decimated domestic poultry populations throughout Asia, comes after the Agriculture Ministry claimed Sunday that the bird flue outbreak in Israel was "under control."
No shortage of poultry or eggs are expected for Pessah, the ministry said on Sunday.
Israeli farmers raise 200 million birds for food each year - of these, 10 million turkeys and seven million egg layers. Thus the death of 12,000 from avian flu and the culling of a few hundred thousand more will not make a major dent in the poultry business, the ministry said.
The ministry also issued reassurances about the safety of poultry and eggs in regulated retail stores. "There is no danger in eating poultry and eggs that were properly cooked and purchased in organized places [supervised by the veterinary authorities]. In any case, there are no sick birds in these markets, as every bird that enters is examined by a veterinarian or veterinary supervisor before it leaves the slaughterhouse," the ministry added. It also said that any household pets that are in a closed cage in the house are in no danger of infection.
Agriculture Minister Ze'ev Boim and Health Minister Ya'acov Edri briefed the cabinet on avian flu. "The government has been prepared to deal with this issue for some time," the cabinet secretary said in his briefing.
"Today, we are taking all the measures that we prepared for. All of the dead birds will be buried in order to prevent the disease from spreading. It is important to emphasize that at this stage, we are talking only about bird flu; there is no indication that the there is the possibility of the disease spreading to people. All necessary measures to ensure that this does not happen are being implemented. Of course, while I suggest attributing due seriousness to the appearance of bird flu, we should also be more relaxed about the dangers that people may be concerned about, given the measures that we have taken and are taking to prevent further spreading. In any case, it will not lead to an outbreak among people."
"I would eat the first chicken I saw," said Edri, as long as it was cooked."
The government said that the team appointed to grant compensation to affected farmers will soon do its work. Boim said the government would allocate NIS 15 million to compensate poultry farmers for the loss of their birds if they were destroyed to prevent an outbreak of bird flu. Each turkey is valued at NIS 100.
At a press conference at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha - one of the four Negev settlements affected by the outbreak - Boim stressed that the main task of the ministry was to stop the spreading of the virus. He explained that all birds within a three-kilometer radius from affected birds would be destroyed and all poultry would be examined within a 10-kilometer radius.
Vaccinations for poultry will soon arrive from Holland, but they will only be used if the ministry is unable to prevent the spread of the virus. He estimated that within six weeks, the affected coops would return to normal.
Meanwhile, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that while the government was dedicating a significant amount of time towards dealing with the bird flu virus it was important not to panic unnecessarily over the outbreak. "It is important to stress that at this stage there is no indication that the disease has spread to humans," said Olmert at the start of his cabinet meeting.
The Agriculture Ministry (www.moag.gov.il) and the Health Ministry (www.health.gov.il) have placed questions and answers, in Hebrew only, about avian flu on their Web sites.
The guidelines are meant for both the general public and farmers.
Meanwhile, Roche Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures the anti-viral drug Tamiflu that does not cure but does minimize symptoms of avian flu in humans, said it was rushing more supplies to Israel.
"Roche has been in contact with the Health Ministry for over three years," said Avi Danziger, general-director of the Israeli subsidiary. "It has expanded and boosted is production of Tamiflu after granting approval to 15 more companies to take part in the manufacturing process, which has made it possible for Roche to meet all its supply deadlines.
Dr. Dudi Golinsky, the medical director of Roche-Israel who participated in the development of the drug, said that Tamiflu is the only drug shown to benefit all ages, from infants to the elderly. It is sold in suspension or capsule form and has a shelf life of five years.
However, the ministry warns against purchase and taking of Tamiflu as a prophylactic. It can be useful only in people diagnosed with avian flu, and so far no one in Israel has been diagnosed.