2nd Traveler Quarantined on Return From Mexico

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A 47-year-old man who returned from Mexico yesterday complaining of fever, headache and a sore throat was admitted to Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, where he was placed in quarantine and is being tested for swine flu. His condition was described as "good." He was the second Israeli to be placed in quarantine over fears of an outbreak of the disease. A 26-year-old man was quarantined at Netanya's Laniado Hospital after returning from Mexico on Friday with similar mild flu-like symptoms.

The patient at Meir Hospital is being treated with Tamiflu (Oseltamivir phosphate), recommended by the Health Ministry for treatment of influenza. "Under normal circumstances this patient would certainly not have been hospitalized," Dr. Michal Chowers, head of the hospital's infectious disease unit, said. "His hospitalization is part of the Health Ministry's efforts to locate any initial cases of swine flu in Israel. We sent blood samples from the patient to a Health Ministry laboratory; results are expected in three to four days. The patient himself does not appear to be worried. I saw him and told him the whole ruckus around him does not in any way mean that he is seriously ill."

The Health Ministry yesterday said it embraced the recommendation of the European Commission to postpone nonessential travel to Mexico and recommends that travelers be alert to reports regarding other countries. In a press conference yesterday ministry officials said that no swine flu cases have yet been recorded in Israel. They said they were not issuing any special instructions to the public for now, including individuals returning from Mexico. The ministry did recommend that such travelers seek medical assistance if they develop flu-like symptoms within seven days after their return. These individuals would be quarantined at local hospitals until their condition is determined, like the patients at Laniado and Meir hospitals.

The Israel Airports Authority said yesterday it had not received instructions from the Health Ministry on how to deal with incoming passengers presenting with flu-like symptoms. In a statement to Haaretz, the authority said "We are prepared for any epidemic scenario but are awaiting directives from the Ministry of Health."

Deputy Health Minister Yaaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said that Israel has sufficient stocks of Tamiflu to treat 18% of the population. The ministry said yesterday it was in the process of increasing that figure to 25%, in accordance with World Health Organization directives.

Representatives for local and foreign airlines operating to and from Israel said they are not making any special preparations to deal with the disease and that there have been not been significant numbers of cancelations of flight reservations to Mexico. However, Delta Airlines, which operates connecting flights to Mexico, said that any passengers booked to travel to Mexico up to and including May 4 may change their reservations without additional charge.

According to officials in the travel industry, only a few thousand Israelis visit Mexico each year. There are no direct flights between the two countries, so most travelers take connecting flights via Europe, the United States or bordering countries. The comparatively high price of such flights, coupled with the economic crisis, has reduced the number of travelers between the two countries even further.

Minister gives virus kosher name

Litzman yesterday avoided using the common name for the disease, since pigs are not kosher. Speaking at the press conference announcing preparations for a possible swine flu epidemic, the deputy health minister said the Health Ministry was "at the spearhead of the effort to block the Mexican flu from spreading into Israel." The ultra-Orthodox daily Hamevaser similarly avoided the use of the term "swine flu". The Lithuanian Haredi daily Yated Ne'eman used swine flu in its reportage, but not in headlines. Ultra-Orthodox publications normally avoid using the words "pig" or "swine", preferring to call the animal or its meat "the other thing."