The incidence of rabies in Israel has quadrupled this month, compared to December last year, breaking records and sparking fears the outbreak could spread to humans.
Avi Tsarfati, head of the Veterinarians Association, said 16 cases of rabies were discovered during December alone, compared to four in December 2016, the Hebrew-language Ynet news website reported Tuesday.
Of the infected animals, 13 were jackals, two were dogs, and one was a calf.
Also this month, a man and a woman were attacked by rabid jackals in two separate incidents, Tsarfati said. The infected jackals were not caught and were presumably still wandering around, infecting other animals.
There were likely many more infected animals that have yet to be detected, he said.
The 16 incidents took place in the Gilboa region, the Valley of Springs in the Jordan Valley, the Jezreel Valley, Megiddo and Yokne’am, all in the north of Israel.
The incidents are “very worrying,” Tsarfati said. “Every day there are encounters between people and wild animals, and in rabies-infected areas these encounters can lead to disaster.”
During a Knesset Economic Affairs Committee discussion of the issue Monday, committee chairman MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) said the Agriculture Ministry was at fault for not creating an emergency team to handle the outbreak. He warned the authorities could face an official probe if no steps were taken to curb the outbreak.
“If there is no better grasp and handling of the situation, the story will become one of a commission of inquiry,” Cabel said.
Oved Nur, head of the Gilboa Regional Council, warned the committee that human lives were in danger.
“Everyone’s saying it’s an emergency but nobody is doing what one does in an emergency,” he said.
“We’re at a breaking point. We don’t have enough staff and we urgently need additional funds.”
Nur expressed concern stray cats could be infected. Whereas those bitten by a jackal are likely to seek medical attention, people are less concerned by a cat scratch and don’t get treatment, increasing the danger that the victim will develop rabies, he said.
Shlomo Garazi, director of the veterinary services at the Agriculture Ministry, said the issue falls under the responsibility of several authorities including local authorities, the Israel Nature and Parks Association, the Health Ministry, and veterinarians.
“We are working on a few levels,” Garazi said, according to the Hebrew-language Walla website. “We are raising the vaccination coverage by scattering oral vaccinations from the air, encouraging vaccinations of house pets and of cattle and sheep. There is an attempt here to hang us out to dry.”
Boris Jacobson, director of the rabies laboratory at the Agriculture Ministry, said the outbreak has been brought to Israel from Jordan by animals that cross the border.
“We are making an effort to so that it doesn’t spill over to dogs and cats,” he told the committee.
Representatives from local authorities told the lawmakers the outbreak was impacting the quality of life of local residents, who are afraid to leave their homes for fear of encountering a diseased animal.
Since the beginning of the year, there were 68 identified cases of rabies while in 2016 there just 29, the Walla report said.
Rabies is a viral disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain in humans. Individuals can become infected when either bitten or scratched or by being exposed to infected animals’ saliva through broken skin, or the eyes, nose or mouth. If it isn’t caught and treated early, rabies nearly always results in death, usually within three months; less for children, as the virus has less distance to travel before attacking the central nervous system.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.