The Health Ministry said Sunday that 42 people have been infected with leptospirosis, a disease that can be fatal and has been transmitted via animal urine in natural water sites.
At an emergency meeting attended by representatives from government ministries, local authorities and other relevant groups, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said that another 242 people are suspected to have contracted the disease. Last Thursday the ministry said 32 were infected with over 250 suspected cases.
“The Health Ministry is treating rivers, checking them, and has its finger on the pulse,” Litzman said. “Those that aren’t good, are closed. And those that are good remain open. We think the situation is under control.”
The 42 patients diagnosed with leptospirosis have received medical treatment in accordance with the severity of their infection, the ministry said.
At the meeting the Health Ministry hosted 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 is being transmitted via streams and other waterways in the north of the country.
As the number of reported cases of the disease has grown in recent days there has been a sharp drop in the number of visitors to vacation sites in the upper Galilee and Golan Heights region, impacting tourism. Hebrew media reports said that the cost so far has been estimated at over NIS 15 million ($4.1m).
Head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, Giora Zeltz said at the meeting that in addition to asking the Health and Tourism ministries to help revitalize the local industry, he will also seek compensation for the businesses which have suffered.
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.