First Two Cases of Swine Flu Confirmed in Israel

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Two Israelis have tested positive for swine flu, the Health Ministry stated over the holiday. Another four people hospitalized with symptoms of the potentially deadly disease have tested negative.

"We still cannot say with certainty whether we have overcome the disease," said Dr. Itamar Grotto, the Health Ministry's head of Public Health Services. "But fortunately, the threat of local transmission has been negated."

A 54-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man were quarantined yesterday in separate hospitals after returning from Mexico with flu-like symptoms, but lab results confirmed that they, as well as two children hospitalized earlier in the week, had not contracted the virus as previously suspected.

The ministry will begin disseminating information about the disease today. It is advising Israelis to take precautions to avoid contracting the virus and has urged the public to be vigilant and maintain personal hygiene. The ministry has also asked anyone who has been in contact with infected individuals to avoid crowds.

Among the Israelis who were thought to have contracted the virus was the 5-year-old niece of Tomer Wajim, 26. Wajim was the first patient to be diagnosed with the disease in Israel. But his niece's lab tests came back negative, the director of Laniado Hospital in Netanya said yesterday.

Wajim, who recently returned from Mexico, had been quarantined for several days before being officially diagnosed with swine flu by Laniado. "He's in excellent condition and feels fully recovered," said his brother, Liran Wajim.

A 9-year-old boy who was hospitalized at the Dana children's hospital in Tel Aviv on Tuesday has also been cleared. The boy had been a passenger on an El Al flight from Newark along with a 47-year-old man from Zoran who was confirmed as having contracted the virus upon his return to Israel. The man is hospitalized in Kfar Sava's Meir Hospital.

The Health Ministry has published a list of symptoms that could indicate swine flu, including fever, cold, sore throat, muscle soreness and shortness of breath. Anyone arriving from Mexico in the past seven days who has one of these symptoms should be examined.

Passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport will receive pamphlets instructing them to go to the hospital immediately if they have any of these symptoms.

The ministry will also operate a hotline for questions about swine flu from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. today. The numbers are 03-695-1541 or *3090 (from Bezeq lines only).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold another discussion today on the possibility of a swine flu outbreak and whether the Defense Ministry's national emergency authority should take charge of it rather than the Health Ministry.

Dr. Yehuda Carmeli, head of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Medical Center, told Haaretz that the risk of swine flu is significantly lower in Israel than in Mexico. Due to the preventive steps that have been taken here, he said, a massive outbreak is unlikely in Israel unless there is a worldwide pandemic.