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Health Ministry announces third death in West Nile fever outbreak

With 74 people hospitalized from mosquito-transmitted disease, ministry blames global warming for massive increase in cases, warns people to protect against insect bites

A mosquito bites a person. (iStock from Getty Images/fotomarekka)
A mosquito bites a person. (iStock from Getty Images/fotomarekka)

A third Israeli person has died from West Nile fever, the Health Ministry said Monday, amid the biggest outbreak of the mosquito-transmitted disease in recent years.

The 61-year-old man was suffering with advanced cancer when he succumbed to the virus in Beilinson Hospital, the ministry said.

The ministry added that a total of 74 cases have now been reported — twice as many as last year — and that 14 of the patients were in serious condition.

The two other fatalities were an 85-year-old man who suffered from what the ministry described as “preexisting health problems” and a 76-year-old man who reportedly died in the Assuta hospital in Ashdod three weeks ago. The Health Ministry was criticized last week for failing to report the case, which was revealed by the Kan public broadcaster.

The Health Ministry on Monday also revealed that the virus had been detected in a string of previously unaffected areas. The list now includes Emek HaMayanot Regional Council, Gezer Regional Council, Megilot Regional Council, Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, the Menashe Regional Council, Megido Regional Council, Alona Regional Council, Gush Etzion Regional Council, Gilboa Regional Council, Mazkeret Batya, Pardes Hannah, and Caesarea.

It said it was likely that the mosquitoes were in other areas that had not yet been detected.

The Environmental Protection Ministry warned residents to protect themselves against insect bites and called on the local authorities to spray insecticide in areas where there are large numbers of mosquitoes or larvae.

The Health Ministry stressed that global warming and the extreme weather conditions were to blame for the increased spread of the disease. It pointed out that across Europe there had been an increase of cases, including in Italy which had 183 cases and Greece with 106.

It said that as global warming increases, Israel is susceptible to more natural disasters, including the spread of insect-borne diseases.

“In July 2018 the government approved a decision for the Environmental Protection Ministry brought together all the government bodies to prepare for the effects of climate change,” the ministry statement said. “It presented principles for national action plans to adapt, including minimizing damage to life, health, the economy and infrastructure.”

The peak season for the West Nile fever in Israel is between August and October. The incubation period in humans is 3-15 days.

Symptoms include fever, rash, headache, and, rarely, more serious side-effects such as meningitis could develop.

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