Naveh: Israel unlikely to escape bird flu

It is unlikely that Israel will escape an international outbreak of avian flu, Health Minister Dan Naveh said on Wednesday. Naveh, who, together with his ministry's senior officials, briefed reporters on how Israel was preparing for a possible outbreak, said that if the disease were detected in Israel, all fowl in a three-kilometer radius would be destroyed, while all fowl in the country would be inoculated. Health Ministry Director-General Avi Yisraeli estimated that an international outbreak of the disease was 'just a matter of time.' According to Yisraeli, 'most scientists believe it is only a question of when, not if. It won't come as a surprise if the disease reaches Israel and infects both birds and humans.' Head of the Israeli Center of Disease Control, Prof. Manfred Green, stressed, however, that 'there is no problem regarding public health.' According to Green, 'the problem is for fowl and fowl farmers. At present, the virus can only be transmitted to those who come in close contact with fowl.' Yisraeli added, 'We are prepared for a possibility that people would get infected and have acquired TamiFlu [anti-viral medicine]. The public does not need the medicine right now.' 'There is no point in taking it and awaiting the virus. There is concern that if people took the medication now, the regular winter flu virus would become resistant.' The ministry said that Israel had stocked up on enough of the medicine to supply seven percent of the population. The ministry is aiming to cover 25% of the public, based on the recommendation of the World Health Organization. Earlier, the UN Food Agency announced that the risk of infection in the Middle East had grown significantly since the virus was detected in Turkey and Romania. According to the agency, the fact that the climate in the region is hospitable to migrating birds could result in the arrival of the virus. Israel and Jordan lie close to the confluence of Africa, Asia and Europe, and hundreds of millions of birds pass through each spring and fall on the way to and from their nesting grounds. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio that officials of the Israeli and Jordanian veterinary services would meet at the border between the two countries on Thursday to work on a plan to combat the deadly bird flu. 'It's a technical meeting, which will tackle ways of coordinating efforts to prevent the spread of bird flu,' Israeli embassy spokesman Jacob Raber told AP in Amman. The London-based Arab daily al Sharq al-Awsat reported on Wednesday that the meeting would be attended by officials from Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Authority. However, Syria's official news agency SANA quoted officials at the Ministry of Agriculture as saying that the report was 'completely baseless.' An official at the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture said his office had not been informed of any meeting, but had requested regional talks, which could occur within the next few days.