Golan streams closed to hikers after unsafe levels of bacteria found
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Golan streams closed to hikers after unsafe levels of bacteria found

Health Ministry announcement comes days before busy holiday season; 2018 outbreak of leptospirosis was linked to contaminated waterways in north

Young Israelis cool off in a stream in the Golan Heights, northern Israel. August 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Young Israelis cool off in a stream in the Golan Heights, northern Israel. August 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Health officials on Monday blocked tourist access to several popular streams in northern Israel after unsafe levels of contaminants were discovered in the water.

A statement by the Environmental Protection and Health ministries said six streams in the Golan Heights were found to contain “increased amounts of bacteria” during routine checks,  and ordered them closed to the public until further notice.

The streams are El Al, Banias, Zaki, Meshushim, and Jilaboun, and the Jordan River from its northernmost tip to where it empties into the Sea of Galilee. A number of popular hiking trails run along and through the streams.

Health officials said the waterways would be tested in the coming days, and the public would be informed of any changes.

The announcement comes just days before the start of the Jewish High Holidays, when hundreds of thousands of Israeli families visit nature reserves and national parks.

Hikers swim at the Zavitan spring on the Golan Heights in northern Israel, April 18, 2014. (Yaakov Naumi/ Flash90)

Last year, health officials shuttered several waterways in the Golan Heights after dozens of people were hospitalized with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection transmitted via animal urine that can be fatal.

In August 2018, the Health Ministry said that 42 people had tested positive for the disease after swimming in streams in the Golan, and another 242 people were suspected of contracting it.

Dr. David Raveh-Brawer speaks with Yuval Miskin (L), who was infected with the leptospirosis in the Golan Heights, at the Sha’arei Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on August 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health experts quoted by Hebrew-language news outlets last year said that they suspected the outbreak of the disease was caused by the large number of wild boars in the Golan Heights, coupled with a persistent drought in recent years that has driven them to huddle next to streams regularly, and to urinate in them.

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