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Bird flu found in northern Israel, same strain as catastrophic 2021 outbreak

Turkeys in slaughterhouse near Beit She’an are first cases of avian influenza this winter; surrounding farms quarantined as authorities look to prevent spread to wild birds

Illustrative: Agriculture Ministry inspectors at a coop on Kibbutz Rosh Tsurim, where bird flu was discovered, on March 8, 2011. (Gershon Elinson / FLASH90)
Illustrative: Agriculture Ministry inspectors at a coop on Kibbutz Rosh Tsurim, where bird flu was discovered, on March 8, 2011. (Gershon Elinson / FLASH90)

Turkeys infected with avian flu were found in a slaughterhouse in northern Israel, the Agriculture Ministry said Tuesday, raising fears of a new outbreak of the virus that ravaged domestic and wild fowl in the country a year ago.

The virus was discovered in turkeys from Kibbutz Shluhot, located near Beit She’an.

Tests revealed that the fowl were infected with the same strain of bird flu, H5N1, which ravaged coops across northern Israel and led to the culling of hundreds of thousands of birds last winter.

Last year saw the virus also spread to wild birds for the first time, leading to the death of 5,000 cranes in the Hula Lake Reserve.

Poultry from the affected slaughterhouse was not sold to distributors and both it and poultry sheds within a 6-mile (10-kilometer) radius of Shluhot were quarantined, the Agricultural Ministry said.

The ministry also called for the immediate transfer of all organic, free-range and other outdoor chickens to closed facilities.

The H5N1 strain is transmissible to humans and last year, experts warned that the danger of the virus spreading to humans was a serious source of concern, though no people were ultimately affected.

Illustrative: A photograph from Israel’s 2006 avian flu outbreak, with Agriculture Ministry workers burying the carcasses of dead turkeys at Kibbutz En Hashlosha in the western Negev. (chameleonseye via iStock by Getty Images)

Other strains of the avian flu, including H7N9, H5N6 and H5N8 are also transmissible to humans.

Last month, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said that it stopped feeding migrating pelicans in the north of Israel this year to reduce the chances of bird flu decimating concentrated flocks. Israel sits on the annual avian migration route between Europe, Asia and Africa.

Officials from the Agricultural Ministry also said that they are coordinating with the Health Ministry and Nature and Parks Authority to mitigate the possibility of transmission of the virus between enclosures via wild poultry.

Dead cranes who were infected with Avian Influenza (bird flu) in the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, Northern Israel, January 2, 2022. (Moraz Brom/Flash90)

Bird flu cases in Israel are not uncommon, but are usually brought under control quickly by quarantining coops and culling affected fowl.

Authorities said that the 2021 outbreak was partially due to farmers using primitive coops, unsanitary conditions and poor monitoring or reporting by farmers in Margaliot, the northern community where the outbreak originated.

In total, the 2021 avian flu outbreak affected 20 chicken coop complexes — mostly in northern Israel, which include around one million hens — as well as 15 bird habitats.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called the outbreak “the worst blow to wildlife in the country’s history.”

Times of Israel Staff and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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