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Cholera found in northern Israel reservoir for first time after outbreak in Syria

Health Ministry says no danger to public after early detection, swift action taken; disease likely spread from northern neighbor, where it has killed 92 people since September

Illustrative: A view of the Yarmouk River in northern Israel, February 11, 2021. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Illustrative: A view of the Yarmouk River in northern Israel, February 11, 2021. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Cholera has been detected in a Yarmouk River reservoir in northern Israel for the first time since a recent outbreak of the deadly disease in Lebanon and Syria, the Health Ministry announced on Friday.

After the contamination was detected, the Health Ministry chlorinated the water and cut off its flow to the Kinneret, Israel’s largest freshwater lake. Testing capabilities have also been set up for regular monitoring of the situation.

The Yarmouk is not used for drinking water and is rarely used for swimming, however, it is a source for irrigation. An initial assessment by the ministry suggested that the bacterium likely arrived from Syria.

“At this stage, we have not identified any danger to public health in Israel due to the early detection and significant and rapid steps taken to face this threat ahead of time, and due to the high-quality condition of Israel’s sanitation, water, sewage, and health infrastructures,” the Health Ministry said in a statement.

“The ministry is following up on possible contamination of water sources from Lebanon (at the Hasbani River), which at this stage has tested negative for the toxin,” the statement said, adding that the ministry’s Jordanian and Palestinian counterparts had been updated on the matter.

Cholera has been largely eradicated in Israel over the last century.

The bacterial disease has swept across Lebanon and Syria in recent months as the countries struggle with devastated infrastructure, turmoil and housing large populations of people who have been displaced by conflict. Lebanon last month reported the first cholera case in nearly 30 years.

UNICEF health workers mix chlorine and fresh water to sanitize tents and bathrooms at a Syrian refugee camp in response to a cholera outbreak in Bhanine village, in the northern Akkar province, Lebanon, October 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Syria has recorded 92 deaths and more than 35,569 suspected cases of the extremely virulent disease since September, according to the World Health Organization, in the country’s first outbreak in more than a decade, while in Lebanon, 18 deaths and 2,700 cases have been recorded.

Cholera is generally contracted from contaminated food or water and spreads in residential areas that lack proper sewerage networks or mains drinking water. While most cases are mild to moderate, cholera can cause death if it’s not treated correctly.

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