Expert: Israeli populace better protected than most of West

Top health official, virus expert call for calm over monkeypox outbreak

There is currently only one confirmed case in Israel, and officials say it is unlikely to become a new pandemic

Illustrative: Monkeypox virus (Udomkarn Chitkul/iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: Monkeypox virus (Udomkarn Chitkul/iStock by Getty Images)

Addressing the recent outbreak of monkeypox, the Health Ministry’s head of public health services, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, urged calm on Sunday, saying the recent outbreak of the virus was not a major risk to public health.

Commenting on reports of two more suspected cases, Alroy-Preis said that those cases had been cleared and were found to have not been infections.

There is currently one confirmed case in Israel: a man in his 30s who recently returned from a trip to western Europe. The man was hospitalized at Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv on Friday and remains in good condition, according to the Health Ministry.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

In a phone briefing, Alroy-Preis told reporters that the virus that arrived in Israel is a West African variant, a more moderate strain that has a low infection rate.

She said stress over the virus was “very unnecessary,” while noting that the arrival of the case was a significant event that required investigation.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem about new coronavirus restrictions, December 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Do not turn this into hysteria right now,” Alroy-Preis urged.

She added that not every contact with a potential case requires quarantine.

“We will give instructions to contacts based on the nature of their contact [with the infected],” she said. The virus requires hospitalization only in exceptional cases, she assured.

Dr. Oren Kobiler (Shachar Shachar/Tel Aviv University Spokesperson’s Office)

Speaking to the Times of Israel on Monday, Dr. Oren Kobiler, a Tel Aviv University microbiologist, said the virus “doesn’t spread very well from person to person, so I’m not very concerned it’s going to be the next pandemic.”

Israel had a case of the disease as early as 2018, Kobiler reminded, and there were no infections as a result of it.

Israel’s population is protected “better than most of the Western world,” according to Kobiler. He explained that people born until 1978 were vaccinated, and are protected in “quite a substantial way,” and those who served in the army were boosted up until 1996.

Kobiler said this segment of the population can still get infected, but is unlikely to experience serious symptoms.

Kobiler said a vaccination drive, utilizing the country’s stockpile of smallpox vaccines against the virus, was not necessary at this stage, due to the vaccine’s range of side effects outweighing the seriousness of Monkeypox.

“If you are standing with a disease with 30% mortality [like smallpox], you definitely want the vaccine and not the disease,” he said.

“Where the illness is much milder, and the death rate is much lower, the question becomes, do we really want to vaccinate everyone because of monkeypox? I don’t see any reason to do that.

Echoing Alroy-Preis, Kobiler said that while the public should keep an eye on the virus, there was no need to change behavior.

Monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks, according to the WHO.

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