Israelis worried that avian flu outbreak could spread to humans

The H5N1 flu, which killed migrating herons in northern Israel, appears to have move on to farmed chickens, threatening Israel’s food supply. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Close to a million chickens have been killed on Israeli farms, with more to follow, as the government attempts to prevent a new wave of bird flu from entering the human population.

The measure comes since around 5,000 wild crane carcasses have been found in the Hula Lake Reserve over the last month, due to H5N1 avian flu. The birds are among the half a billion that migrate through Israel each autumn on their way to warmer climes.

Israel’s Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said the flu has caused “the worst blow to wildlife in the country’s history,” while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has discussed the outbreak with security officials, according to Times of Israel.

On Thursday, a further 5,500 chickens on an organic farm in Barak, a community in the North, were isolated after it was found they were carrying the virus, and sales of eggs from the farm were stopped. The farm produces 100,000 eggs a year, some 2.4% of the organic egg market in Israel. The government has said that it will take measures to increase imports of eggs from abroad.

“The widespread nature of the avian flu is very concerning, especially given that it is infecting chickens and not just wild birds,” top epidemiologist Prof. Amnon Lahad said Wednesday. “It’s made the move from wildlife to stock animals, and I’m hoping it won’t make the next step to humans.”

Israel is not the only country being hit by H5N1. According to the BBC, the virus was found within two chicken flocks on farms in Essex, eastern England, in November, with a third found in Norfolk shortly after. On Thursday, a fourth farm was found to be carrying the virus, also in Norfolk, making the outbreak the largest yet seen by the UK, with 60 cases confirmed in the last two months.

Sophie Leney, head of Norfolk County Council Trading Standards, said: “We are supporting the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) as part of their co-ordinated efforts to support local businesses and minimise the risk of any avian influenza outbreak spreading.

“We urge all bird keepers in Norfolk to follow the biosecurity requirements diligently to protect their own birds and those of others and to safeguard livelihoods.”