Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced on Monday an additional outbreak of bird flu in the country, the 10th outbreak identified on farms in Israel in the last two months.
The most recent outbreak surged in Moshav Be’er Tuvia, an agricultural community in the south of the country, where an additional outbreak also was identified last week. Other cases discovered this season – in Moshav Shluhot, Moshav Beit Herut, Moshav Beit HaLevi, Moshav Kfar Monash, Kibbutz Mishmar HaSharon, Kibbutz Hatsor, Kibbutz Ein Tzurim and Kibbutz Magal – were already handled by the Agriculture Ministry.
The ministry urged farmers in Israel to keep their birds indoors to avoid infection. Also, it asked Israeli citizens to only buy meat and eggs in certified places.
Dr. Tamir Goshen, director of veterinary and health services at Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, told The Media Line that the appearance of bird flu in Israel begins with the arrival of the bird migration season in the fall and spring.
Israel lies in one of the most transited bird-migration routes worldwide. As described on the website of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the country is a “bottleneck along one of the world’s most important migration flyways.” In the spring and fall, around 500 million birds cross Israel on their way back and forth from their nesting grounds in Europe and Asia to their wintering grounds in Africa, according to the site.
That is why, according to Goshen, “with the beginning of the flu outbreaks in the world and in Europe in particular last August, the ministry advanced its preparations for the current migration season.”
Professor Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University, told The Media Line that more avian flu outbreaks than usual have been discovered around the world this season.
This is also true in Israel, he said, though in comparison to other countries, Israel’s current outbreaks are on a smaller scale.
Davidovitch notes that, aside from the migration of the birds, some of the reasons for the surge in avian flu cases are related to the increased contact between wild and domestic animals, and the animals’ proximity to humans due to urbanization.
The fear is that the virus will be transmitted to a human and spread among humans, but this is currently not the case
He also points out that intensive farming and the conditions in some industrial poultry farms – where there is a high density of birds – makes the risk of infection higher.
However, he says that the outbreaks in Israel are rather localized, and that the country is not at risk of widespread infection.
The possibility of the virus being transmitted to humans is very low, stresses Davidovitch, adding that, this year, human cases have not surged, and in previous years only sporadic cases were identified.
Davidovitch believes that with such viruses all precautions must be taken. “The fear is that the virus will be transmitted to a human and spread among humans, but this is currently not the case,” he said, adding that usually when a human is infected with bird flu, which happens rarely, it is a “dead end” for the chain of infection.
Goshen noted that, in preparation for this season, the Agriculture Ministry stockpiled equipment for immediate treatment at outbreak centers, prepared laboratories to carry out tests, and prepared the equipment for the evacuation of poultry as well as for the purification and restoration of farms.
“The ministry maintains a constant dialogue with the growers, and they have received instructions ahead of time to minimize the risk of the virus entering the farms and to prevent the spread of the disease,” he said.
Goshen says that the director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has had regular and systematic professional dialogue with officials from the Israeli ministries of Health and Environmental Protection, and the Nature and Parks Authority, among others, to deal with the situation in a joint effort.
“It should also be noted that the office is in contact with the veterinary services in some of the neighboring countries and provides them with information about the disease in Israel,” said Goshen.
Vaccines for poultry have been tested in some countries, including neighboring Egypt. But research on a solution to slowing the virus is not mature enough yet, Goshen said. He believes that what could help avoid more outbreaks is the integration of data and knowledge from the veterinary services and the human epidemiological services.
“This kind of thinking is called the One Health and there should be incentives and structures for distributing information to have integrated databases,” he said.