First case reported in Israel of heart inflammation linked to Omicron infection

Previously healthy 43-year-old man who received a booster shot in August hospitalized at Tel Hashomer in intensive care unit; doctors call it a ‘worrying development’

Illustration of a human heart (magicmine; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustration of a human heart (magicmine; iStock by Getty Images)

A hospital said Sunday it was dealing with the first case in Israel of heart inflammation linked to an infection with the Omicron variant.

Doctors at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer told Channel 12 news that a 43-year-old man was hospitalized in their coronavirus ward and being treated for myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle.)

“This is the first time we have seen this with Omicron,” said Prof. Shlomi Matetzky, a cardiology expert at the hospital, adding that this was “a worrying development that we need to think about.”

“We are keeping a close watch on the patient, who is currently in intensive care,” he said.

Previous variants of the virus have been known to cause myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart). In very rare cases there have been also been instances of the diseases caused by vaccines using mRNA technology, particularly in younger men.

The hospital said the man had last received a vaccine in August when he got a booster shot. He was healthy with no underlying conditions.

Shlomi Matetzky, head of the ICU at Sheba Medical Center (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

Israel is seeing a massive surge of infections caused by Omicron, with health officials hoping it will prove milder and cause fewer hospitalizations than previous waves.

The number of COVID-19 patients listed as seriously ill rose to 206, according to Health Ministry figures released Sunday that showed case tallies continuing to mount.

While the daily tally of 17,521 new cases Saturday was a slight dip from Friday’s record-setting 18,831 new cases, the test positivity rate climbed to levels not seen in over a year. Case numbers generally dip over the weekend due to vagaries in testing.

Sunday’s tally of serious cases of COVID-19 was nearly double the 112 patients in serious condition recorded a week earlier. The number of hospitalizations rose from 338 a week ago to 524.

The positivity rate of 11.71 percent was the highest recorded since October 2020, though it came as Israel began accepting less-accurate rapid antigen tests, while saving the better PCR tests for over-60s and the unvaccinated, to reduce crowding at testing stations.

Testing is usually lower over the weekend but Saturday’s figure for new cases was the highest ever for that day of the week since the start of the pandemic in early 2020 and was over four times higher than the 4,231 recorded the week before. The previous record for a Saturday was apparently on September 11 when 10,292 new cases were found.

With the new cases, there were 115,010 active patients in the country.

A health worker conducts a COVID antigen test at a testing center in Jerusalem on January 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The death toll remained at 8,259, with no change since Friday.

Officials have said that Israel is dealing with both the faster-spreading Omicron and more dangerous Delta strains of the virus, expressing fears that the health system could get overwhelmed with a rise in flu cases taking up room in hospitals as well.

The government has urged the public to vaccinate and shots are available to all those aged five or above.

Of Israel’s 9.5 million population, 6,621,321 have had at least one vaccine dose, Sunday’s Health Ministry figures showed. Of those, 5,963,196 have also had a second shot and 4,322,783 a booster as well.

Last week Israel begin distributing extra fourth-shot boosters to its elderly population and health workers, the first country in the world to do so. As of Saturday, 254,000 people had gotten the second booster.

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