Q&A With Health Ministry Adviser on Swine Flu in Israel

Dr. Ran Blitzer says Israel is not alone, preventive measures are not necessary at this stage.

Dr. Ran Blitzer, special adviser to the Health Ministry on the swine flu epidemic, and head of health policy at the Clalit HMO, answers questions for Haaretz:

What is the meaning of the World Health Organization raising the threat level to 4?

The international organization believes the risk of a pandemic has risen, and wants to warn countries to prepare for more incidences of the disease.

How does Israel compare to other countries in terms of incidences of the virus?

Israel is certainly not alone. Many countries are reporting that they are in a similar situation, since this virus is airborne and is spread relatively easily. In Israel so far, two people have been diagnosed with it. Their situation is not life threatening, and they are hospitalized in quarantine. There are two other suspected cases and we will soon know if they have tested positive. The people diagnosed with the virus had just returned from Mexico.

What are the prognoses for patients diagnosed as having the disease?

Very good. They feel well and have relatively mild cases. They will be sent home after spending some time in quarantine. The period in isolation is seven days, after which they pose no risk of infecting other people.

Who should be checked?

Anyone who returned from Mexico over the past week and has flu-like symptoms and a fever should go to the hospital or an HMO.

Is it necessary to close down the borders in order to prevent the spread of the disease?

No. When we prepared the health system for potential flu epidemics we considered such action, but studies suggest that such a move is of little to no use. It will not prevent the disease from entering the country, and certainly not at this stage, when people have already tested positive here. It is like shutting the barn door after the horses have fled.

How is the virus identified?

We have very sophisticated means of identifying the virus if we believe a patient has it. The Health Ministry virus lab has a special test that gives results within three days.

Is preventive treatment necessary?

Not at this stage.