Government ministries to hold emergency talks on leptospirosis outbreak
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Government ministries to hold emergency talks on leptospirosis outbreak

Senior officials to meet Sunday in attempt to stem spread of bacterial infection found to have been transmitted via Golan Heights waterways

Dr. David Raveh-Brawer gives a statement  about several cases of leptospirosis in the Golan Heights, at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on August 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Dr. David Raveh-Brawer gives a statement about several cases of leptospirosis in the Golan Heights, at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on August 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several high-level government ministries will hold emergency talks on Sunday over the recent outbreak of leptospirosis, a disease that can be fatal and is transmitted via animal urine.

The Health Ministry will host senior representatives from the Finance and Agriculture ministries as well as officials from the Israel Water Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Cattle Farmers Union and several local authorities in an attempt to tackle the outbreak, which has been found to have been transmitted via streams and other waterways in the north of the country.

The Health Ministry said on Thursday that 32 people have so far been diagnosed with leptospirosis from 253 suspected cases examined.

Leptospirosis is transmitted to humans via the urine of mammals, usually from rats or mice, but also dogs, deer, cows and sheep. While the bacteria do not harm the host animal, in humans they can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever and chills, intense headaches, stomach pain and conjunctivitis, in milder forms. In a more severe form, it can degenerate into Weil’s disease, which causes liver damage, kidney failure, bleeding in the lungs and meningitis, and can been fatal if left without treatment.

Health experts suspect the outbreak of the disease was caused by the large number of wild boars in the Golan Heights, who had been driven by a persistent drought in recent years to huddle continuously next to streams and urinate in them.

The Health Ministry last week published lab results showing up to 11 times more harmful bacteria than is allowed in several streams in the Golan Heights that were closed to the public after dozens of hikers fell ill with the bacterial infection.

The ministry has urged the public to remain calm, and has encouraged vacationers in northern Israel not to alter their plans despite the major scare, stressing that there was no indication of infection elsewhere.

“We are closely following the situation on a daily basis and continuously updating the public,” said Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov.

“It is important to us to warn against the ‘fake news’ circulating on social media,” he added, saying people should “be sure to only rely on official announcements by authorized bodies.”

He urged the public to seek updates at the Health Ministry’s website and social media platforms, as well as the Nature and Parks Authority’s website.

The Nature and Parks Authority said Thursday it was preparing — together with the Water Authority, the Mekorot national water company and the local water association — to pump clean water into several streams to lower the level of contamination.

It said new water would be pumped into the contaminated waterways in early October. Waters will continue to be tested regularly.

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