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Health Ministry suspects parasite in Sea of Galilee causing eye infections

Officials say at least 29 people have recently been hospitalized with symptoms typical of microsporidia, which leads to eye inflammation and in rare cases can damage eyesight

Israelis enjoy the last days of the summer holiday on an extremely hot day at Duga Beach, on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee on August 30, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Israelis enjoy the last days of the summer holiday on an extremely hot day at Duga Beach, on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee on August 30, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry advised the public Tuesday to take care when bathing in the Sea of Galilee, suspecting that the water may contain a parasite that can cause eye inflammation and even lead to eyesight damage in rare cases.

The ministry said in a statement that in recent days, it has received increasing reports from ophthalmologists about patients hospitalized with cornea infections or damaged eyesight.

It said 29 patients have been diagnosed with infections typical to the microsporidia parasite. This fungus can enter the body via the soft tissue around the eye while a person swims.

The Health Ministry launched an epidemiological investigation, finding that at least some of the patients had recently bathed in various beaches of the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s only freshwater lake.

Noting that the data was still partial and the matter was under investigation, the ministry advised Israelis in the meantime to wear goggles or other protective gear when bathing in the Sea of Galilee, to avoid direct contact of water with the eyes.

It urged others who swam there recently and may be suffering from eye inflammation, eye pain or redness to seek medical attention.

The ministry noted that drinking the water causes no harm.

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