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Five Israelis in their 20s who recently returned from separate trips to Nepal have been hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Shomer after becoming ill with stomach typhus.

In investigating the five cases, the hospital has found that all of them had eaten at two Chabad centers in Nepal, including meals consumed there during the recent holiday period.

A hospital source said: "At these [Chabad] houses, the cooking was performed by local employees, and one of the possible causes of the infection could be one of the workers."

Doctors at Tel Hashomer suspect there are additional cases of infection as yet undiagnosed and friends of those hospitalized in Israel report there are two other Israelis in hospital in Thailand after traveling around Nepal.

The director of the Center for Geographic Medicine at Tel Hashomer, Eli Schwartz, has called upon all Israelis who were in Nepal over the past month and who have experienced a fever to immediately seek medical attention to be tested for stomach typhus.

In medical literature, there is a report from the 1930s of a cook in New York who spread stomach typhus.

"The disease, which is characterized by a severe, sustained fever, is caused by the salmonella virus, which is ingested in food or drink and then enters the digestive system and then the circulatory system.

The disease causes severe infection and the risk of death if not treated in time," Schwartz said. The accepted treatment for the disease involves two weeks of intravenous medication.

There is a vaccine available against the disease, which is effective for about three years, but it is not effective against the particular strain of the disease with which the five Sheba patients were infected and which is widespread in the Far East.

The Health Ministry said that it is investigating the source of the infection and attempting to identify additional cases of infected patients.