Two more Israelis are suspected of falling victim to swine flu as authorities on Thursday issued new recommendations to the public in a bid to contain the virus.
Israel will tighten its border examinations of nationals and tourists entering from Mexico or who have recently visited the country, senior health officials decided on Thursday following another set of emergency consultations in the prime minister's bureau.
Beginning Thursday afternoon, anyone landing in the country from Mexico will be required to undergo tests at a clinic that has been set up at Ben Gurion Airport.
The Health Ministry raised the alert level to five, which is the second-highest on the scale. It issued a new set of recommendations to the public in an effort to contain swine flu and prevent its spread in Israel.
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Health officials suspect two more Israelis, both of whom recently returned from a trip to Mexico, have been infected with swine flu. A woman, 75, is currently hospitalized at Laniado Hospital in Netanya while a nine-year-old girl is being treated at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava. Both patients are in seclusion until the reason for their condition can be verified.
Professor Avi Yisraeli, the ministry's director-general, told reporters on Thursday that Israelis are advised not to travel to Mexico until further notice.
In addition, Yisraeli recommended to anyone who has recently visited Mexico and has returned, or is planning to return soon to Israel, to remain home and to keep away from crowded areas. The ministry is hoping that people adhere to a policy of "voluntary quarantine" for a period of one week after the departure from Mexico.
Dr. Ofra Havkin, a senior medical official, told Haaretz that the purpose of the clinic at Ben Gurion Airport is to identify travelers who were in Mexico during the past seven days and to check them for the signs of swine flu.
Havkin added that a throat sample would be taken from every traveler coming from Mexico, even if the traveler displays no symptoms of the illness. Travelers returning from Mexico are also being directed to remain in their homes and refrain from going to crowded public places.
At this stage, the clinic at Ben Gurion is checking only passengers returning from Mexico; it will provide initial treatment to those displaying the symptoms of swine flu.
The clinic is located in the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion, and is stocked with protective equipment such as face and ear masks as well as synthetic gloves.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned senior officials on Thursday for discussions on the possibility of a swine flu outbreak in Israel. The officials also resolved to maintain responsibility for flu prevention efforts in the hands of the Health Ministry.
Earlier, senior officials had mulled assigning the Defense Ministry's national emergency authority with the task 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.
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."
The ministry will begin disseminating information about the disease on Thursday. 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.
The 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.