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Israel Reports Outbreak of Bird Flu

Israel has reported its first outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. Health officials are taking a series of measures to prevent the virus from spreading.

The Israeli Agriculture Ministry says the avian flu virus killed 11,000 turkeys at two kibbutz collective farms in southern Israel. The deadly virus is also suspected in the deaths of 5,000 chickens at a kibbutz in the center of the country. A six-kilometer quarantine zone has been imposed around the infected areas. The Health Ministry has ordered tens of thousands of birds to be destroyed over the next few days to contain the outbreak.

Three people have been hospitalized on suspicion of contracting bird flu. Health Ministry Director-General Avi Yisraeli sought to calm the public. "The virus affects birds, and it is unlikely that humans will be infected," Yisraeli told Israel Radio. He added that only people who come into direct contact with infected poultry were at risk.

At the same time, he said the Health Ministry is not taking any chances. "We have sent protective clothing and medicines to poultry farmers in the infected areas," Yisraeli said. In addition, four million units of bird flu vaccine have been ordered from Holland.

Avian flu, which first surfaced in Asia, has spread with alarming speed in recent weeks across Europe and Africa. International health officials have warned that the more it spreads, the greater the danger that the virus could mutate and cause a pandemic, in which millions of people could die.

The virus was detected in neighboring Egypt last month, and the disease may have entered Israel from there.

It is the first outbreak of bird flu in Israel, and officials fear it will spread to Palestinian areas, where health standards are lower. In a rare act of cooperation, Israel is testing poultry in the West Bank and Gaza on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Containing the virus is a mutual interest.