A disease-spreading sandfly, a type of mosquito, has been plaguing a West Bank settlement and the surrounding areas in recent weeks, prompting calls for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to intervene.
More than 50 cases of the Leishmaniasis disease, transmitted by infected sandflies, have been recorded in the community of Tzofim in the northern West Bank and other nearby areas. At least half of those affected are children under the age of 14, according to a report in Israeli news site NRG.
The sandflies are vectors of the Leishmania genus, which they contract from dogs, rodents and other animals.
In the case of Tzofim and the surrounding areas, the sandflies pick up the genus from an animal called the rock hyrax, a type of terrestrial mammal found across the Middle East and Africa, that somewhat resembles a guinea pig. They are known carriers of the leishmaniasis parasite and generally live in and around rock formations.
Once bitten by the infected mosquito, humans develop skin ulcers which can become open sores that leave significant scars after healing. Other effects include high fever, an enlarged spleen and damage to the liver.
Treatments of the disease can be lengthy — up to a year — and complex.
In Israel, rock hyrax are considered an endangered species and the authorities have been unresponsive to calls for controlled killings of the animal.
For residents of Tzofim, the sandflies, and the rock hyrax, are a hazard.
Adi Perlamuter told Channel 2 on Thursday that her young daughter had been bitten on her nose last November. For several months, the bite appeared as a small red dot on the girl’s skin before spreading and becoming infected.
After being diagnosed with Leishmaniasis, a variety of doctors suggested different treatments — from topical skin creams to laser treatments — with little success, said Perlamuter. Her daughter Sapir was now under a regimen of antibiotics which seem to be working but come with severe side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
Another Tzofim resident said everyone on his street has been affected by the bites and the disease.
“We need to get to a situation where the rock hyrax no longer has a habitat close to the communities,” Gabriel Schwartz, a veterinarian with the local council, told Channel 2 on Thursday.
According to the report, authorities have seen a marked increase in the disease over the past few years in the West Bank.
Locals have said the construction of the security barrier over the past decade has led to an increase in habitats for the animals, a charge the Defense Ministry denies.
Efforts by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to distance the rock hyrax from the proximity of residential areas have just caused the animals to move closer to other settlements, causing the problem to to persist.
The head of the Shomron Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, told NRG that residents “expect the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Defense Ministry who created this problem to help solve it.”
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority told Channel 2 in a statement that it was “very difficult to exterminate sandflies and rock hyrax, who are a protected species,” but promised to continue assisting communities by removing habitats.
The Defense Ministry said the spread of the disease was not a consequence of the construction of the security barrier, but that after receiving a request from the local council, the ministry would examine whether it could assist in fighting the phenomenon.